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Pakistani Police Continue Crackdown on Opposition


Police across Pakistan are rounding up more opposition leaders and critics of President Pervez Musharraf, with reports of more than 1,500 arrested since Saturday. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports that protests turned violent in Lahore Monday when police clashed with demonstrating lawyers.

Witnesses said police arrested some 250 lawyers in Lahore as they tried to march in protest of the suspension of the constitution. Smaller protests were reported in Karachi and Rawalpindi.

In Islamabad, a few lawyers wearing their familiar black suits gathered near police barricades outside the Supreme Court. Lawyer Abdulrehman Siddiqi said the judges who have sworn to uphold the new provisional constitution are not legitimate.

"No judge is going to be recognized as judge of the Supreme Court or High Court and no lawyer is going to appear before them," he said.

Much of Pakistan's legal community has been critical of President Musharraf in recent months, particularly after he tried to remove the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Many senior judges are believed to be under house arrest.

The crackdown has also targeted political opposition supporters. Officials with the Jamaat-e-Islami party, one of Pakistan's largest Islamic parties said more than 500 supporters have been detained following a rally on Sunday in Lahore.

The deputy head of the party, Syed Munawar Hasan said instead of staging mass arrests during the rally, police waited for party members to return home.

"They had already been informed that police were waiting for them. So whenever they reached their house, even late in the night, they had been followed and arrested and put in different lock-ups," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the best path for Pakistan is returning to constitutional rule and holding elections. Speaking at a news conference in the West Bank, she said an important step in the process would be for President Musharraf to step down as army chief.

The United States and Britain are reviewing their financial aid to Pakistan. Since 2001, U.S. aid to Pakistan has totaled more than $10 billion, mostly for the military.

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