ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Monday survived a first day of organized public protest against his seizure of all government powers, and he moved to deaden further opposition by declaring elections would be held near their scheduled date in January.
Thousands of lawyers massed at courthouses in Pakistan’s big cities Monday, chanting for Musharraf to resign. In black suits and ties, the lawyers threw stones and fought with policemen who thrashed them with batons and fired tear gas.
By Monday evening, an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 Pakistanis were in jail, and Musharraf’s control remained unthreatened.
The day’s events appeared to suggest that Musharraf’s strategy – cracking heads while controlling almost all public information – might prevent the kind of massive street protests that forced out previous unpopular Pakistani rulers.
Journalists and witnesses in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi described bloody fights in which police pummeled hundreds of lawyers into submission, and not a few into unconsciousness. But those images, which ignited massive protests against Musharraf last summer at an earlier stage of this crisis, went virtually unseen by Pakistanis.
Pakistan’s clutch of independent TV news channels remained dark and silent at the government’s order, while state television limited its images of the protests to lawyers throwing rocks. Police have barred reporters from photographing protests and arrests.
While police crushed the protests, Musharraf’s top aides hastened to declare elections would be held as close as possible to the constitutional deadline of Jan. 15. Quick elections are a demand of the two power centers that can directly threaten Musharraf – his main political rival, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and his main foreign ally, the Bush administration.