ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – In a stone-throwing melee in the heart of Pakistan’s capital, riot police on Saturday fired tear gas and beat lawyers and human rights activists protesting President Pervez Musharraf’s plans to have himself re-elected while serving as chief of the military.
Dozens of people were reported hurt in the daylong clashes, which marked an escalation in political tensions that have unsettled Pakistan for months amid a nationwide grass-roots movement to oust Musharraf. Until now, even very large anti-government protests have been mainly peaceful.
The violence came as the country’s Election Commission gave its final seal of approval Saturday to the Pakistani leader’s plans to seek a new five-year term in a vote to be held by lawmakers next Saturday – a vote he is almost certain to win.
A day earlier, the Supreme Court had cleared the way for Musharraf’s re-election by dismissing legal challenges to his standing for office in his dual roles as the country’s civilian and military leader.
During Saturday’s clashes between police and hundreds of protesters, clouds of tear gas drifted up and down the capital’s broad Constitution Avenue.
Outside the Election Commission building, across the street from the Supreme Court, some of the protesting lawyers wielded wooden staves to battle police, their black coats flapping and black neckties flying. Lawyers have played the leading role in the anti-Musharraf movement since March, when the general tried to fire Pakistan’s respected chief justice.