Clashes erupt as Musharraf’s nomination papers cleared

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : Pakistan’s poll body Saturday accepted President Pervez Musharraf’s re-election bid amid use of police force to quell hundreds of lawyers and political activists who were opposing the military ruler’s candidature triggering violent clashes that left at least 45 injured.

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Riot police baton charged hundreds of lawyers who wanted to enter Pakistan Election Commission’s office where presidential nomination papers were being scrutinised.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and several other federal ministers arrived at the commission office to respond to the objections to Musharraf’s eligibility for running for the presidential vote on Oct 6.

The representatives of Pakistan Peoples Party candidate and lawyers boycotted the proceedings and walked out of the room where they were meeting the Chief Election Commission (CEC).

CEC, Qazi Farooq, dismissed all objections against Musharraf raised by the lawyers and cleared him and five other candidates, including Makhdoom Amin Fahim from opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and a retired judge, Wajihuddin Ahmed for the presidential election.

Two other candidates whose nomination papers were also cleared include Muhammadmian Soomro and Faryal Talpur. Soomro, senate chairman, is Musharraf’s covering candidate while Talpur covers the PPP candidate.

The Election Commission will publish the final list of presidential candidates Oct 1.

Police used force to quell lawyers who were protesting Musharraf’s candidacy and used tear-gas shells to disperse the crowd of hundreds chanting anti-Musharraf slogans.

Over 30 lawyers were injured, while about 200 hundred lawyers and political activists were arrested, according to reports.

Supreme Court Bar Association president Munir A. Malik, who spearheads the campaign against Musharraf, said that lawyers had filed objections to Musharraf’s candidature but the CEC cleared the papers without listening to them.

He pointed out that Musharraf had not submitted his Bachelor’s degree with the nomination papers. According to the 2002 presidential order only graduates can contest for parliament.

“The same conditions apply for the presidential candidates,” Malik said.

The lawyers have also alleged that Musharraf was a “liar” and hence stood disqualified for the president’s office.

Malik said that Musharraf in a televised addressed had committed that he would doff the army uniform in December 2004 but he later refused and continued to hold two offices.

Six members of a panel of nine senior judges threw out petitions filed by the opposition seeking to obstruct Musharraf’s candidacy on constitutional grounds Friday.

Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup, has said he will shed his uniform by November 15 if he receives a further mandate from parliament and the national assemblies.

Also on Saturday, the government blocked TV transmission of independent news channels, particularly in Islamabad, to prevent them from airing live coverage of the demonstrations.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), a media watchdog, issued orders not to air independent news channels till further orders, according to cable operators here.

“We have been asked to immediately close down all other news channels including ARY, AAJ, GEO, DAWN and others,” a leading cable operator in Islamabad told IANS.

“We have to obey the orders, otherwise they will do what they did in the past,” said Akhtar, who identified himself only by his first name.

He said that during Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s judicial trial they disobeyed a similar order and all their equipment was confiscated and damaged.

“This is a black day… we never thought that the government can go to this extent,” said Huma Ali, president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). He said that the military regime had no tolerance for any body.

According to the PEMRA order, state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) would be the only news channel available on air.

“This is nothing new…we have been seeing this since March when we started giving independent news to our viewers,” said Syed Talat Hussain, director news of AAJ television.

Islamabad also witnessed clashes between journalists and cops in which 15 media personnel were injured as policemen beat them with sticks.

The journalists were injured when policemen chased them with sticks as they were protesting about an accident in which their colleague was knocked down by Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi’s vehicle.

Altaf Bhatti of daily Khabrain was severely hurt when his leg was crushed under the wheels Elahi’s limo outside the election commission building.

While the media personnel were protesting, “some of the senior journalists were tracked by the police and beaten up,” said Huma Ali.