(AFP) – Dec 17, 2007
ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistani police used batons and fired tear gas in a clash with protesters who hurled rocks and bricks at them in the capital Islamabad on Monday, AFP journalists on the scene said.
It was the first public clash with security forces since President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday lifted an unpopular state of emergency which he imposed amid months of political turmoil.
Around 200 people were trying to make their way to the residence of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who is under house arrest, but were blocked by police.
Police said 14 officers were hurt in the melee, while an AFP reporter said at least one local journalist was taken to hospital after being beaten with a baton. The clash lasted about 45 minutes.
"They started pelting the police with stones and tried to force their way through. The police responded with tear gas and baton charges to disperse them," Kaleem Imam, a senior Islamabad police official, told AFP.
He said some of the injured police had been hit by rocks and that 21 people had been arrested.
An AFP journalist said it appeared that students had started the clash by hitting police with sticks.
The protesters -- including lawyers, students and rights activists -- chanted slogans against Musharraf, who suspended Chaudhry in March, sparking months of political chaos.
Chaudhry has since been sacked and is under house arrest. But he has become a pro-democracy icon for opponents of the president.
"Go, Musharraf! Go!" the protesters chanted -- using what has become a regular slogan in demonstrations against the 64-year-old leader.
Dozens of judges were sacked under the six-week state of emergency, and the president has vowed that they will not be given back their jobs.
Musharraf said he imposed the emergency because of a wave of Islamist violence as well as what he said was a conspiracy, helped in part by the judiciary, to derail democracy in the country.
Critics charge the real reason was to purge anti-Musharraf judges who might have been willing to consider legal challenges to his October re-election as president.
But rights activist and professor Farzana Bari told AFP that it had been a peaceful protest marred by the "brutality" of the police.
"We just wanted to go to the house of Iftikhar Chaudhry to express our solidarity with him, but police started beating us without any warning," said Bari, speaking by telephone from police custody.
"We will continue our struggle for the independence of the judiciary. We want Musharraf to reinstate the judges he sacked," she said.
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