Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan blocks anti-government protests

WON’T LAST The leader of Pakistan’s main opposition party predicted the president would not complete his five-year term in the face of anti-government demonstrators


Pakistan’s opposition leader predicted Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari would not last his full five-year term in office as police yesterday turned away another convoy of protesters trying to reach the capital for a major anti-government demonstration.

Authorities have detained several hundred political activists and lawyers in recent days, seeking to thwart a protest movement that is challenging the government’s shaky one-year rule just as the West wants to see Pakistan unite and fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists.

Activist lawyers are demanding Zardari fulfill a pledge to reinstate judges fired by former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, a general who ousted opposition leader Nawaz Sharif as prime minister in a 1999 coup. The protest movement heated up last month when the Supreme Court banned Sharif and his brother from elected office.

After the ruling, the federal government dismissed the Punjab provincial administration led by Sharif’s brother, stoking anger in Pakistan’s most populous region and putting the pair and their supporters on a collision course with Zardari.

Sharif — a seasoned political campaigner who is seen as closer to Pakistan’s conservative Islamist forces than Zardari — told a local TV station late on Thursday that he did not want to destabilize the government, but again appealed for Zardari to reinstate the judges.

By resisting that demand, Zardari was “shortening his political life,” he said, adding: “I don’t think he will be able to complete his five years.”

The lawyers’ movement, Sharif’s party and other small political groupings called a “long march” to begin on Thursday across the country, with groups of protesters planning to converge on the parliament building in Islamabad on Monday and begin a sit-in.

Early yesterday, police stopped about 200 lawyers in a convoy of cars and buses from entering Sindh Province en route to Islamabad, witnesses and participants in the convoy said. No arrests were made, but the protesters vowed to find another way to get to the capital.

On Thursday, several hundred protesters in Karachi, the country’s largest city, set off for Islamabad in a convoy or cars, buses and motorbikes.

They were stopped by police trucks blocking the highway out of the city, and officers with clubs moved in to arrest the leaders, engaging in brief scuffles.

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