Bush Calls On Musharraf To End Crackdown

Police officers arrest a lawyer who was protesting against Pakistan's military ruler President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for imposing the emergency, Monday, Nov 5, 2007 in Lahore, Pakistan.
AP Photo/K.M.Chaudary
President Bush on Monday exhorted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to hold elections and relinquish his army post "as soon as possible." He said he instructed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver that message in a telephone call with Musharraf.

Mr. Bush made his comments in the Oval Office of the White House after a meeting with Turkey's visiting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was Mr. Bush's first public comment on the political crisis in Pakistan since Musharraf imposed a state of emergency over the weekend.

Mr. Bush would not discuss what action he might take - for example, how much U.S. aid to Pakistan would be cut - if Musharraf ignores his request.

"It's a hypothetical," he said. "I certainly hope he does take my advice."

But the president made a point of praising Pakistan's cooperation in the war on terror, and seemed resigned that, as a result, there is little concrete action he can take to influence Musharraf's behavior.

"All we can do is continue to work with the president ... to make abundantly clear the position of the United States," he said.

Meanwhile, lawyers led protests in Pakistan Monday, angered by Musharraf's decision to declare emergency rule, suspend the constitution and dismiss judges, reports CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar.

At a now illegal demonstration in Lahore, police moved in, swinging batons and lobbing tear gas. Lawyers in suits and dress shoes were hauled off to prison, yelling their opposition to Musharraf.

Hundreds of lawyers have joined human rights activists and political opponents in detention. Thousands have been arrested, adds MacVicar. Hamid Khan, who is a senior lawyer, is a wanted man and protest organizer. He is in hiding.

"Last night I was not in my office and I do not sleep at any place known to anyone," said Khan. "So this is one way of evading the arrests."

Rice telephoned Musharraf from her plane as she was returning to Washington from the Middle East, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Mr. Bush's announcement, said Rice had made clear that the United States was deeply disappointed in the weekend move and wanted Musharraf to rescind the decision as well as hold elections as scheduled in January.

Earlier Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, was among a group of foreign diplomats to meet with Musharraf, who outlined his reasoning behind the step and reiterated his intention to step down as the country's military chief and return to civilian rule, the official said, adding that Washington wanted to see action on those pledges.

The Bush administration is currently reviewing U.S. assistance to Pakistan in light of the developments, including a crackdown on the opposition and independent media. Such aid has amounted to $9.6 billion dollars since 2001. That does not include another $800 million that the administration is requesting from Congress for Pakistan for the current budget year.

But Rice and other top administration national security aides have said that U.S. financial aid to Pakistan must be reviewed in light of the latest developments but that it's unlikely that money for the war on terrorism would be at risk.

At the White House Monday, press secretary Dana Perino told reporters: "The best option is for Pakistan to get back on its path to democracy.

Discussing the situation with reporters in Ramallah, West Bank earlier Monday, Rice exhorted Musharraf to sever his affiliation with the army and restore civilian rule.

"I want to be very clear. We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections," she said, adding that Musharraf must follow through on past promises to "take off his uniform."

And the Pentagon said that it was postponing a meeting scheduled for this week in Islamabad between senior U.S. and Pakistani defense officials.

Eric Edelman, defense undersecretary for policy issues, was planning to travel to Pakistan for the meeting, but "it was thought wise to postpone this meeting until such time that all the parties can focus on the very important issues at hand," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that both he and Rice suggested the administration doesn't want to disrupt its partnership with Pakistan in fighting al Qaeda and other militants - a relationship that dates back to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts," said Gates, who is on a visit to China.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said a review of "the broad spectrum of assistance that we give to Pakistan" was under way, but declined to comment on whether Musharraf's actions had triggered statutory aid suspensions. He also reiterated that the administration had to consider Pakistan's status as a strong anti-terrorism ally in the review.

"As we look at and review assistance here, we will look at what is both required under law and regulation as well as what would be appropriate to do in terms of U.S. policy," Casey told reporters.

Laws governing the distribution of U.S. foreign aid are clear as they apply to coups d'etat and other unconstitutional steps taken to remove a democratically elected government but are less precise about the imposition of states of emergency and martial law, officials said.

At the same time, Casey noted that U.S.-Pakistani ties would suffer unless Musharraf rescinds the state of emergency.

"It is difficult to see how our relations would remain the same if this step is not, in fact, reversed," he said. "It is our hope that this decision will be reversed in short order."

In the biggest anti-government gathering, about 2,000 lawyers congregated at the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore. As lawyers tried to exit onto a main road to stage a rally - in defiance of a police warnings not to violate a ban on demonstrations - hundreds of officers stormed inside.

(AP Photo/K.M.Chaudary)
Police swung batons and fired tear gas shells to disperse the lawyers, who responded by throwing stones and beating police with tree branches. The protesters shouted "Go Musharraf Go!"

About 250 lawyers were bundled into waiting vans, an Associated Press reporter saw. At least two were bleeding from the head. The government reported up to 1,800 arrests, although opposition groups put the figure at
twice that.

"The lawyers initiated trouble by throwing stones at police, and it forced us to take action against them," said Aftab Cheema, the city police chief.

"Sarfraz Cheema, a senior lawyer at the rally, condemned the police action. "This police brutality against peaceful lawyers shows how the government of a dictator wants to silence those who are against dictatorship," he said. "We don't accept the proclamation of emergency."

A spokesman for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan only recently to challenge Musharraf in elections after years in exile, said Monday that 67 members of her party had been arrested across the country.