Mar 17, 2007

Protests Intensify in Pakistan

The worm may be turning in Pakistan.

Pakistani police fired rubber bullets at protesters, ransacked a television station and detained key opposition leaders Friday, as anger swelled over Gen. Pervez Musharraf's suspension of the nation's chief justice.

Opposition groups pledged to hold larger demonstrations against the government, and Pakistani political analysts said Musharraf faces the greatest challenge to his presidency since he took office in a bloodless coup in 1999.

"This has shaken the country. It has shaken the government," said Ayaz Amir, a columnist for the English-language newspaper Dawn. "It has all the potential of getting out of hand and turning into something bigger."

Musharraf last week suspended the Supreme Court's chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, citing unspecified abuses of authority. Since then, furor over the move has grown. Political opponents and journalists have speculated that Musharraf feared Chaudhry might try to force the president to step down as head of the army or might be planning to play a role in upcoming elections. ...

The protests were broadcast live on the independent television station Geo TV, and riot police stormed the station's Islamabad office during the protests in an attempt to shut it down. Geo TV representatives said the police released tear gas in the office, roughed up the station's journalists and trashed furniture. ...

The intensifying domestic pressure on Musharraf comes just weeks after a visit by Vice President Cheney in which U.S. officials pushed for greater Pakistani cooperation in anti-terrorist campaigns against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The United States has long considered Musharraf a critical ally, but since Cheney's visit there has been widespread speculation in the Pakistani news media that the relationship between Islamabad and Washington is fraying.

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