Pakistan police beat lawyers, crackdown continues

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 5 (Reuters) Pakistan police baton-charged lawyers protesting against President Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule today, as police continued to detain his opponents in the face of US pressure to hold elections in January.

Declaring an emergency on Saturday, General Musharraf cited spiralling militancy and hostile judges to justify his action and imposed reporting curbs on the media in a bid to stop outrage spilling onto the streets.

Police baton-charged dozens of lawyers protesting outside the High Court in the economic capital Karachi today, lawyers said.

''Police beat lawyers with batons as they came to High Court in the morning. Many of them have been arrested,'' Akhtar Hussain, a former president of Sindh High Court Bar Association, told Reuters.

A main Islamist opposition party said authorities had also detained 600-700 of its supporters overnight in southern and central provinces. The detention of Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami supporters followed the arrests of hundreds of opposition figures the government said were a ''preventive'' measure.

Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, also suspended the constitution.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed disappointment with Musharraf in terms seldom heard before from US officials more accustomed to praising the Pakistani leader's support in the battle against al Qaeda.

''The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf,'' Rice said, urging Pakistan to get back on the road to democracy, and warning US aid to its ally was under review.

Washington has given Islamabad around 10 billion dollar over the last five years.

Despite the detentions, a lawyers' movement that led the fight against Musharraf when he tried to sack the country's top judge earlier this year, was planning protests in front of courts in most major cities.

Lawyers, journalists, opposition politicians, and ordinary Pakistanis said they believed Musharraf's main motive in declaring emergency rule was to pre-empt the Supreme Court invalidating his re-election as president last month.

REUTERS SZ SSC1038

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