Pakistanis dazed as reconciliation becomes emergency

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KARACHI, Nov 4 (Reuters) Telephone networks went down for hours, news channels went off the air -- but news that Pakistan had been plunged into emergency rule swept Karachi, the country's largest city, before communications shut down.

Naeem Ahmed said thanks to the television blackout he'd never sold so many newspapers as he did this morning from his stall in the centre of Pakistan's biggest city -- but that's where his happiness ended.

''Personally, I believe that emergency will further aggravate the precarious situation we are already in,'' Ahmed said.

Yawar Abbas, a 42 year-old businessman in Pakistan's commercial capital, was in a minority backing Musharraf.

''I think it's the right move,'' he said. ''Emergency powers should help the government control rising terrorism and extremism.'' Amir Ahmed said he was bemused by events as he waited at the city's airport for his brother to arrive from Dubai on the same flight as opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

''This is an amazing country. In a short space of a few months we have moved from talk of reconciliation to emergency,'' said Ahmed, an employee of a courier company.

Having returned from self-imposed exile on October 18 as part of a reconciliation process meant to pave the way to parliamentary elections in January, Bhutto had gone back to Dubai on Thursday to spend a few days with her family.

When she came back two weeks ago there were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets to greet her for a homecoming ruined by a suicide attack that killed 139 people.

Last night there were just a couple of hundred supporters at the airport to welcome Bhutto back to her hometown.

The ones who did were sure President Musharraf, a general who came to power in a coup eight years ago, had made a blunder that would lead to his downfall.

''Musharraf has gone too far. Now he will not survive for long,'' Manzoor Abbas, a member of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party said.

Firing was heard in several parts of the volatile city, notably Lyari, a neighbourhood where support for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party is strong.

Most of firing appeared to be in the air, according to witnesses, and it was unknown if there were any casualties.

Housewife Firdoos Begum, 45, was worried about the impact on food prices, one of the main causes of Musharraf's plummeting popularity.

''Prices have risen so much, we cannot afford a lot of things,'' she said. ''Emergency rule will further push prices up and poor will become poorer.'' A stockbroker, who asked not to be named, was sure that emergency rule was bad news for an economy and share market that have been among the best performers in Asia.

''It will stop the progress of the country. The stock market will fall, unemployment and inflation will increase,'' he said.

Sharafat Ali, a driver standing outside a shop in the business district late on Saturday night, was downcast after the imposition of emergency rule in a country that has been led by generals for more than half the 60 years since it was formed out of the partition of India.

''In the coming days, Pakistan will only see darkness. With martial law a country can never progress.'' REUTERS SYU BD1155

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