Published on
The Sunday Times/UK

Musharraf Tightens His Grip on Pakistan After 'Coup'

Zahid Hussain, of The Times, in Islamabad

Hundreds of political activists were arrested in Pakistan today as President Pervez Musharraf tightened his grip on the country after imposing emergency rule, threatening elections due early next year.

1104 02Police raided a meeting of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in eastern city of Lahore arresting 70, including a large group of lawyers.

The crackdown prompted Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State who had urged General Musharraf to resist taking authoritarian measures, to say that Washington would have to review financial aid to Pakistan.

"Obviously we are going to have to review the situation with aid, in part because we have to see what may be triggered by certain statutes," Ms Rice told reporters in Jerusalem.

Islamabad looked a city under siege with army and paramilitary troops patrolling the deserted streets and security forces set up checkpoints on the main roads. The traffic remained thin and people stayed home, as tension was palpable. Constitution Avenue, where the Parliament, President house and Supreme Court are located, was cordoned off with barbed wire.

The Government also imposed a new press and publication law that blocked the transmission of private television news channels as well as foreign news networks like BBC, CNN and Sky.

Shaukat Aziz, the Prime Minister, hinted at postponement of parliamentary elections due to be held in January next year. "We have not yet decided when to hold elections," he told reporters, Sunday. He said the parliament was entitled to delay elections for a year under state of emergency. "We are still deliberating. In an emergency the parliament could give itself one year."

General Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 has defended his decision, saying he could not allow the country to commit suicide. In an address to the nation on Saturday, he said that Pakistan was in a crisis caused by militant violence and a judiciary which had paralysed the government. The controversial move came as the Supreme Court was due to rule on the legality of his October election victory.

General Musharraf has not given any time frame how long the emergency rule would remain enforced. He said that the parliament remained in place and the civilian government would continue to function. But opposition leaders have accused the military leader of bringing in martial law without declaring it.

Most legal experts described the move as his second coup. "It is a martial law proclaimed by General Musharraf in his capacity of chief of army staff," said Iqbal Haider, a former law minister. "It is an extra constitutional measure where the constitution has been suspended."

General Musharraf's weekend order was seen as a repeat of 1999 proclamation he issued after seizing power.

© Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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