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Protests in Pakistan

Police and demonstrators clash over emergency rule

By Karen Fanning | null null , null
Lawyers chant slogans as they demonstrate against President General Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007. (Photo: ©Wally Santana/AP Images)
Lawyers chant slogans as they demonstrate against President General Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007. (Photo: ©Wally Santana/AP Images)

Political unrest in Pakistan intensified on Wednesday as demonstrators and police clashed on the streets of the capital city of Islamabad. For the third straight day, supporters of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have marched outside Parliament to protest President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to impose military rule.

Police used tear gas and resorted to violence to control the crowds. But that didn’t stop demonstrators from making their voices heard, as they shouted, "Benazir, Benazir!" and "Down with the emergency!"

Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the country's constitution on Saturday. Since then, he has forced out several top judges, silenced the media, and arrested thousands of people.

Musharraf insisted that he suspended the country's constitution because the courts have interfered with Pakistan’s ability to fight terrorism. Musharraf's opponents, however, charge that his actions are simply a political maneuver to stay in power. He ousted several top judges just before the Supreme Court in Pakistan was set to rule whether Musharraf was eligible to serve a third term as President.

Bhutto Speaks Out

Prior to the recent violence, Musharraf had met with Bhutto, who is seeking to return to power as Prime Minister after eight years of self-imposed exile. There had been speculation that the two would share power after parliamentary elections, which may happen in January. But now, Bhutto has vowed to cut off talks with Musharraf unless the political situation in Pakistan changes.

"I think we should all come down as strongly as we can for the restoration of democracy," she said. "And if General Musharraf wants to find a way out, well, the ball is in his court."

With the timing of parliamentary elections uncertain, Bhutto has summoned the people of Pakistan to take action. She has urged them to ignore a ban on rallies by demonstrating near Parliament and participating in a massive rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Friday.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries are pushing for Musharraf to end the state of emergency and restore Pakistan’s constitutional government. American and British officials are considering a withdrawal of financial aid from Pakistan, but so far no action has been taken.

CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION

Read today’s story and answer the following question.

American citizens have the right to protest and demonstrate against their government. What gives Americans that right? Why are the Pakistanis not being granted the same right?

Join a discussion of this question on our bulletin board.

About the Author

Karen Fanning is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.

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