April 2002 News

Pakistan arrests anti-referendum

26 April 2002
The Times of India

QUETTA: Pakistani police Friday arrested 70 lawyers protesting against military ruler Gen Musharrafs controversial referendum on extending his presidency, witnesses said. Police rounded up the lawyers, also protesting against the overnight detention of three colleagues, as they gathered at district courts in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province. On Thursday police raided the houses of the three, including the president of the Baluchistan Bar Association, Ali Ahmed Kurd, and arrested them on treason charges. "They were trying to incite people against the state," a local police officer said. Police broke up Friday's gathering as they prepared to hold a march protesting against the arrests and the April 30 vote, "We are not afraid of arrests. We will continue to oppose the unconstitutional referendum," acting president of the bar, Kamran Mullah Khel, told reporters. He said lawyers would continue to strike until the referendum and no bail petitions would be filed for those detained. "We condemn the strong-arm tactics by the military ruler," Khel said, adding that four lawyers would stage a token hunger strike starting Saturday. The Pakistani Supreme Court is hearing petitions from opposition parties and legal groups challenging the constitutionality of the referendum by which Musharraf hopes to secure a five-year extension on his term as president. Baluchistan high court judge Tariq Mahmood has also resigned in protest against it vote. Economists and business leaders are saying that political uncertainty ahead of the referendum has stilled private investment in Pakistan, still struggling to recover from last year's recession. Musharraf s decision to side with the United States in the war against terrorism has paid off in hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and loans from Western nations. "Pakistan has a lot of potential to attract investment in the engineering, textile, oil and gas, computer and chemical sectors," said Iftikhar Malik, president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry. "But both foreign and local investors are reluctant to put up money because of the political uncertainty and instability," Malik said. Trade delegations from the United States, the European Union, Japan, Turkey and Malaysia have visited the impoverished country in recent months and expressed interest, but are holding off - at least until the referendum and October parliamentary elections are over he added. Several political parties, including those of former prune ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, have gone to court to challenge the referendum, which would give Musharraf five more years in office.


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