Thursday, January 24, 2008
The previous day, President Housni Mubarak faced the wrath of the Arab world when his riot police used clubs and water hoses to attack Palestinian women pleading for Egypt to open the Rafah crossing in Gaza. And despite pressure from Israel and the United States, Mubarak wasn't about to order his men to use force to restrain Palestinians rendered desperate by Israel's siege. The Egyptian President said he ordered his troops to "let them come to eat and buy food and go back, as long as they are not carrying weapons."
At 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Palestinian militants detonated explosive charges knocking out slabs in the 26-foot concrete border wall, and by dawn, Gazans were racing to the open border on donkey carts and tractors and in cars. Once through the holes, they trampled across barbed wire, vaulted over fences and picked their way gingerly through cactus. Many carried heavy suitcases and said that they were never coming back to captivity in Gaza.
But most Gazans were in a mad scramble to go shopping, and they returned with everything from goats to tires to jerricans full of gasoline. One stout woman in a veil threaded nimbly through barbed wire with a tray of canned fruit balanced on her head. The Palestinians cleaned out every shop on the Egyptian side: By afternoon, there was nothing to buy within a six-mile distance of the border; and even the Sinai town of El-Arish, three hours drive away, had been sucked dry of gasoline. One taxi driver who brought back cartons of cigarettes and gallons of gas to resell for a profit in Gaza said, "This should help feed my family for several months."
Israel expressed fears that Hamas militants would use the breach in the border to bring in weapons. One Palestinian said he witnessed dozens of Hamas men who had been stuck in Egypt for months crossing into Gaza. Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Aryeh Mekel told newsmen, "We have real concerns that they can now freely smuggle explosives, missiles and people into Gaza, which makes an already bad situation even worse."
Hamas moved quickly to capitalize on the mass celebration of the border's breach. The movement's parliamentary leader, Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh, called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt to join in urgent talks to find a formula for keeping the Gaza-Egypt border permanently open. Haniyeh said Hamas was prepared to set up joint control of the border with the President's forces, bringing an end to a hostilities between the two factions that erupted last July when Hamas militants chased the President's Fatah militia out of Gaza.
Now that Gazans have exploded out of their besieged enclave, it may be up to Israel to seal up the border again, since the Egyptians are showing no signs of doing so. Israel had put the economic squeeze on Gaza's 1.5 million people — a policy described as "collective punishment" by many aid organizations — hoping it would turn the Palestinians against Hamas. But with the siege broken, even if temporarily, Hamas has earned the gratitude of hungry Palestinians and reinvigorated its popularity in Gaza.
Riot police used tear gas and batons here on Thursday to disperse hundreds of protesters chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf, AFP reporters witnessed.
Around 400 people, including lawyers and supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) screamed "Death to Musharraf" when police stopped them from visiting former chief justice of Pakistan.
President Musharraf deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry under emergency rule in November last year. Chaudhry remains under house arrest in Islamabad.
The protesters tried to break through a police barricade outside the upmarket Marriott Hotel, which is near Chaudhry's house, but were forced back by baton-wielding police who then fired tear gas.
Waving black flags, the protesters regrouped and chanted: "We will lay down our lives for the chief justice."
Former premier Nawaz Sharif was prevented from meeting Justice Chaudhry on Wednesday.
Source: AAJ News
"This is in the supreme national interest and it makes itincumbent on him to step down," said a statement released late Tuesday to the media by the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen's Society, after a group meeting attended by more than 100 former generals, admirals, air marshals and other retired officers and enlisted men.
The call came as Musharraf, who was commander of the army until stepping down last month, was in Europe on a tour aimed at reassuring Western leaders about his ability to restore democracy and prevail in the escalating combat between government troops and Taliban rebels along Pakistan's mountainous border with Afghanistan.
The group of former generals does not speak for serving officers, but its tough stance is an embarrassment to Musharraf whose popularity has waned considerably in the past year.
It could strike a chord within the army's current ranks —which are forbidden from expressing political opinions —over how a once-respected institution has lost a lot of support among the wider public as Musharraf's personal standing has eroded over his maneuvering to stay in power.
This fall, the U.S.-backed president purged the Supreme Court, which could have scuppered his recent re-election,and briefly suspended the constitution, setting back expectations of a restoration of democracy.
"The feeling was unanimous and strong among the (retired) officers and other ranks that Musharraf is the problem and that he is a source of divisiveness, a source of centrifugal forces and an impediment to democracy," saidTalat Masood, a retired general who is now a prominent political analyst.
"He is bringing down the reputation of the army, and undermining its support among the people which it needs in the war on terror," said Masood, who attended the meeting."He has brought disgrace on all ranks."
Musharraf, a top U.S. ally in its war on terrorism, led a military coup to seize power in 1999, but retired from the army before being inaugurated for a new five-year term as civilian president in November.
His successor as army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is believed to remain loyal to the president. The continued support of the military — which has ruled Pakistan for morethan half of its 60 years as an independent nation — is essential for Musharraf to remain in power.
The Bush administration has continued to praise the former general, saying he is committed to restoring democracy through parliamentary elections scheduled for Feb. 18.
Kayani has moved quickly to disengage the army from politics. He has banned officers from maintaining contacts with politicians, and ordered the more than 3,000 officers now serving in the civil administration and government-run enterprises to gradually revert to their military duties.
Kayani has been praised by U.S. officials as an aggressive commander who has shown he is determined to restore law andorder to the border regions that have served as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
On Tuesday, Adm. William Fallon — the head of the U.S.Central Command and top commander of American forces in theMiddle East — held talks in Rawalpindi with Kayani. ThePakistani army said the two men discussed the "security situation" in the region, but gave no more details.
In the latest violence, suspected militants attacked a military camp in the frontier region with rockets and small-arms fire Wednesday, killing three soldiers andwounding several others, a military statement and securityofficials said. The strike against Razmak Fort in SouthWaziristan came a day after fighting that left seven troops and 37 militants dead.
Meanwhile, a suspected suicide bomber was killed and five people were injured in an explosion in Jamrud, a tribal area close to Peshawar, said Khan Dad, a local government officer. The bomb went off in a market in the village ofWazir Dand, he said.
"We think he was carrying the bomb somewhere when it exploded," Khan said.
In its statement, the Ex-Servicemen's Society said its members had been watching "events in the recent past withgreat concern and anguish," according to the Dawn newspaper.
Tuesday's meeting brought together retired commanders ofall political stripes, the daily said. It included hard-liners such as Javed Ashraf Qazi, the former head of Pakistan's feared Inter-Services Intelligence, and liberal reformists like Air Marshals Asghar Khan and Nur Khan.
"Kayani has made it very clear that army has to keep away from politics and the affairs of the state," Mirza Aslam Beg, who was chief of army staff from 1988 to 1991, told The Associated Press.
"He has realized the sentiments of the people of Pakistan that they do not want the army to intervene and take decisions on their behalf."
Associated Press writers Bashirullah Khan in Miran Shah,Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Riaz Khan in Peshawar,and Slobadan Lekic in Islamabad contributed to this report.
Source: The Emergency Times
[January 23, 2008] The Board of Directors of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is pleased to announce that it has decided to grant its 3rd Asian Human Rights Defender Award jointly to Muneer Malik, former President of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, together with his successor, Choudhry Aitezaz Ahsan.
The award is in recognition of the historic leadership role that the lawyers of Pakistan have had in fighting against military dictatorship there during the past year, spearheading the protests against General Pervez Musharraf’s unconstitutional removal and illegal confinement of Chief Justice Iftekhar M. Chaudhary on 9 March 2007.
The lawyers’ movement has attracted interest and immense support of people from all walks of life in Pakistan and the scheme to remove the chief justice was thwarted, although he was again illegally removed from his post, along with 55 other senior judges, including 13 from the Supreme Court, when Musharraf seized power through an unconstitutional declaration of emergency rule at the end of the year.
The lawyers, judges and others of Pakistan have been making great sacrifices to defend the independence of their judiciary as a last bastion against the otherwise unchallenged power of the military. This struggle is continuing today.
The 3rd Asian Human Rights Defenders Award is thus awarded to these two leading lawyers both in recognition of their personal sacrifices as well as to them as representatives of the entire people’s movement against dictatorship in Pakistan.
For his leading role in fighting against the removal of the chief justice and promoting the struggle for an independent judiciary, Muneer Malik was arrested and drugged, causing him to suffer renal failure. He is still recovering today. Choudhry Aitezaz Ahsan has been kept under detention since the emergency was imposed on 3 November 2007.
The two lawyers’ leadership, courage and unswerving commitment to their profession, their integrity and their country are strongly symbolic of their cause. In them we acknowledge and award all of the lawyers, judges and others who have refused to bow down to the immoral pressure of military force, including all of those dismissed from their posts and kept in their houses. They stand today as the representatives of civilised society and institutional commonsense in Pakistan, in stark contrast to the barbarism and primitive feudal order represented by Musharraf and his allies.
By making this award we also again emphasise that the international community is obliged to support the people of Pakistan at a time that they are faced with the very real threat of being subjected to the sole authority of a merciless and self-interested executive authority. We call upon others to join with us in open expression of support for these lawyers and their struggle.
ABOUT THE AWARDEES
Muneer A. Malik was President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan from October 2006 to October 2007. He has fought for the independence of the judiciary and independence of the legal profession consistently. When Chief Justice Iftekhar M. Chaudhary was removed unconstitutionally by General Musharraf, he was among the senior lawyers who openly defied the move and led his peers in their struggle to oppose it, which swelled into a massive outpouring of dissent against military dictatorship from people in all quarters and professions. As a result, he was arrested and imprisoned. While held in the notorious Attock Jail under supervision of the ISI, the military intelligence agency, he was given drugs that he was told were painkillers. Thereafter he suffered renal failure. His life was saved only due to massive locally and internationally pressure that led to the authorities acquiescing to the needed medical intervention. He is still undergoing treatment.
For details of his views on the present crisis see: here
Choudhry Aitezaz Ahsan is the serving President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and he too has consistently fought for the independence of judiciary and lawyers. He also led the protests against the attack on the chief justice. He successfully represented the chief justice in the case for his reappointment, despite heavy pressure being brought upon him not to do so. He was put under house arrest together with the senior judges and other lawyers when the emergency was imposed illegally on 3 November 2007 and remains there to this day.
For his views see here