Pakistan's Sharif Decries `Police State'
Monday, 16 March 2009

Former Pakistani prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif defied government attempts to place him under `protective security' on Sunday and said protests against the government would go on.

Sharif has thrown his support behind a protest campaign by anti-government lawyers that threatens to bring turmoil to Pakistan as the government struggles to stem militancy and to revive a flagging economy.

Police fired tear gas and lashed protesters with batons outside the High Court in the city of Lahore, where Sharif had been due to address a rally, witnesses said.

"You have seen that the entire country has been turned into a police state. They have blocked all roads, they have used all sorts of unlawful tactics," Sharif told a throng of reporters gathered at the front step of his Lahore home.

"We will continue marching toward our destination. Sons and daughters, the time has come to take to the streets."

Earlier, Sharif's party said he had been ordered detained at his home for three days. Police officer Babur Awan also said a detention order had been issued.

Police in riot gear virtually sealed off Sharif's house with road blocks on all approaches, but government officials denied he had been placed under house arrest.

One said Sharif had been placed under "protective security" for three days after he had refused various options for addressing his supporters under government protection.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said on Saturday security agencies had information "enemies of Pakistan" would launch suicide bomb attacks on the protest.

But Sharif said the government was acting illegally in order to stop the protest campaign. He later drove off in his bullet-proof vehicle, apparently to address protesters.


Police have detained hundreds of lawyers and opposition activists in a crackdown launched on Wednesday to prevent their

cross-country "long march" protest that is due to climax with a sit-in outside parliament in Islamabad on Monday.

Snuffing out protests with detentions and roadblocks, the government has also asked troops to be ready, if needed.

Top lawyer and protest organizer Aitzaz Ahsan was detained at his house in Lahore, an aide said.

Police sealed off a bar association in the city of Rawalpindi where lawyers were due to protest and they placed shipping containers on roads to block the way to nearby Islamabad.

If the political crisis gets out of hand, the army could feel compelled to intervene, though most analysts say a military takeover is highly unlikely.

The United States is deeply worried that the crisis is a distraction to Pakistan's efforts to eliminate Taliban and al Qaeda enclaves on the Afghan border, vital to U.S. plans to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat al Qaeda.

In what appeared to be a step toward reconciliation with the opposition, the government said on Saturday it would seek a review of a Supreme Court ruling last month that barred the Sharifs from elected office.

But his party rejected the move.

The Sharifs said Zardari was behind the ruling, which was based on old convictions the Sharifs say were politically motivated.

The ruling nullified a by-election victory by Shahbaz Sharif and disqualified him from being chief minister of Punjab, the most populous and influential of Pakistan's provinces.

The Sharif party's government was thrown out of power in Punjab and Zardari imposed central rule there for two months.


The protesters' main demand is the reinstatement of former Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was dismissed in 2007 by then president and army chief Pervez Musharraf.

Zardari, widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has refused to reinstate the judge, seeing him as a threat to his own position.

A senior official in Zardari's party said on Saturday the president was refusing to cave in to pressure from Sharif and his supporters in the media.

The official also dismissed talk of any "erosion" in support from the United States or the army. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke by telephone to Zardari and the Sharifs on Saturday.


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