Pakistan braces for more protests against emergency

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 6 (Reuters) Pakistani police braced for more lawyers' protests against President Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule today, a day after officials said an election will be held early next year in the face of mounting US pressure.

US President George W Bush, who values Musharraf as an ally in his battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban, on Monday urged Pakistan's military ruler to lift emergency rule he imposed on Saturday, hold elections and quit his military post.

Troops manned razor wire checkpoints near the presidential palace, parliament and Supreme Court in Islamabad early on Tuesday, while police vetted lawyers trying to enter the High Court in the country's financial hub, Karachi.

General Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup, has detained hundreds of lawyers and opposition politicians since taking emergency powers on Saturday.

The move seen as designed to pre-empt the possibility of the Supreme Court invalidating his re-election by parliament as president last month because he stood while still army chief.

After dismissing judges who were too difficult to handle, Musharraf has been filling the Supreme Court benches with more amenable judges.

The imposition of emergency rule had raised considerable doubts whether parliamentary elections, expected in January, would go ahead as scheduled.

A stock market that dropped 4.6 percent on Monday dropped another 1.3 per cent in early trade on Tuesday as investors took fright at the dicey political scenarios.

While Musharraf himself has not yet said when elections will be held, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on Monday they would be held on schedule.

Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum said the National and provincial assemblies will be dissolved on Nov. 15, completing their term, and an election would be held by mid-January.

''Elections will be held, will be held on time and the tenure (of the assemblies) is not being extended for a year,'' close Musharraf ally and possible future prime minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, chief minister of Punjab province, told a news conference in Lahore broadcast on television.

Musharraf's cabinet was due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the emergency rule, while former prime minister Benazir Bhutto -- who the US had hoped would end up sharing power with the president after January's poll -- was expected to visit Islamabad imminently.

Bhutto has denounced the emergency as ''mini-martial law'', but she has not mobilised her street power, and so far the lawyers have been the only group mounting a significant protests.

Police used teargas against stone-throwing lawyers in the eastern city of Lahore, and wielded batons to break up another protest by dozens outside the High Court in Karachi. Hundreds of opposition figures and lawyers have been rounded up and detained.

INCOMMUNICADO There was no indication of when Musharraf would lift emergency rule, which he justified by citing a hostile judiciary and rising militancy. However he said on Monday he planned to give up his military role in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

''I am determined to execute this third stage of transition fully and I'm determined to remove my uniform once we correct these pillars, the judiciary and the executive and the parliament,'' he told foreign diplomats in a meeting, that state-run Pakistan Television ran excerpts from.

Several judges were held incommunicado at their homes after refusing to back emergency rule. Among them was dismissed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who became a symbol of resistance to Musharraf's rule after defying pressure to quit in March.

Since Pakistan was formed in 1947 by the partition of India after British colonial rule, it has reeled from one crisis to another and spent half its 60 years ruled by generals.

Security has deteriorated since July, when commandos stormed Islamabad's Red Mosque to crush an armed Islamist movement. Since then nearly 800 people have been killed in militant-linked violence, half of them by suicide attacks.

The United States has put future aid to Pakistan under review, having provided billion in the past five years, and postponed defence cooperation talks with Pakistan due this week.

''We expect there to be elections as soon as possible and that the president should remove his military uniform,'' Bush said in Washington.

Howver he stopped short of threatening to cut off aid, a move that could risk undermining Pakistan's cooperation in counter-terrorism.

Balancing his remarks, Bush said Musharraf ''has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals ... After all they tried to kill him three or four times.'' UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced dismay at mass detentions of rights activists and opposition supporters, calling for their immediate release.

''He should not impose emergency rule, he should reintroduce democracy into the country with the consultation of all political parties,'' said 58-year-old Muhammad Sarwar, a retired taxi driver, as he shopped in an Islamabad bazaar early on Tuesday.


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