Musharraf plunges Pakistan into chaos

Munir Ahmad

Munir Ahmad

ISLAMABAD - Legions of baton-wielding police clashed with lawyers to squash protests against President Pervez Musharraf yesterday while international pressure mounted against the imposition of emergency powers that have led to more than 1500 arrests.

Pakistan's main stock market dropped 4,3percent amid rumours that Musharraf had been put under house arrest by the vice chief of the army, which the US-allied leader "laughed off", Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said. He said Musharraf was at his official residence in Islamabad.

Musharraf suspended the constitution on Saturday, ahead of a supreme court ruling that could have floored his re-election as president. He ousted independent-minded judges and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush dissent, flinging Pakistan deeper into crisis.

The US and other nations who count Musharraf as a key ally in fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban militants urged him to avoid taking authoritarian measures, but the military leader said they were needed to counter a growing militant Islamic movement and a court system that hindered his powers.

Musharraf briefed foreign ambassadors yesterday, saying the "superior judiciary paralysed various organs of the state and created impediments in the fight against terrorism", state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Musharraf, however, reiterated that he would complete the transition to democracy. His government said on Sunday that parliamentary elections could be delayed by up to a year.

Since late Saturday, between 1500 and 1800 people have been detained nationwide, an interior ministry official said. - Sapa-AP