Pakistani lawyers’ attack on former minister sparks protests

April 9th, 2008 - 6:58 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
Islamabad, April 9 (DPA) Supporters of a former Pakistani cabinet minister Wednesday protested in the eastern Punjab province, a day after lawyers attacked him for defending President Pervez Musharraf’s controversial actions. Sher Afgan Niazi, former parliamentary affairs minister, was roughed up by a crowd of lawyers in Punjab’s capital Lahore Tuesday evening as he was brought out of a building that was besieged by attorneys for more than four hours.

Wednesday, a crowd rallied in Niazi’s hometown of Mianwali, and warned if the “hooligans” were not arrested within a day they would disrupt communication links between major cities, and march on Lahore.

Protesters burnt tyres and blocked roads to vent their anger, saying the episode was tantamount to attack on their whole community.

Agitations erupted soon after the 62-year-old veteran politician was attacked and the police escorted him to a waiting ambulance that was also attacked and immobilized by the mob of lawyers.

Senior barrister and Supreme Court Bar Association president Aitzaz Ahsan struggled to push back the crowd but failed to control them. He also announced his resignation in regret but later showed signs of reversing himself.

Niazi endorsed Musharraf’s proclamation of emergency rule in November 2007 that many believed was a step to remove the independent-minded chief judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry, for being a threat to his re-election as the president.

Chaudhry was confined to his official residence in Islamabad. But after anti-Musharraf forces were voted into power Feb 18, the new prime minister lifted restrictions on the judge’s movement after taking office March 24.

All political parties condemned the manhandling of Niazi, but the ruling coalition cast doubt on the incident and claimed that a conspiracy was being hatched against the new government that routed the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (PML).

But Tariq Mehmood, a staunch critic of Musharraf and lead figure in the lawyers’ campaign, admitted the blame for the “shameful act” could not be shifted away, and suggested serious action against those lawyers who were part of “this nonsense”.

The assault on Niazi came one day after the purported supporters of ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) charged at PML leader and former Sindh province chief minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim. One of them hit the member of parliament on the face with a shoe.

Both incidents, which the ruling coalition partners described as consequential public reaction, were broadcast live on private television channels.

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