Associated Press demonizes Pakistani civilians as anti-government

Violence mars Pakistani anti-government protest.

LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistan opposition leader Nawaz Sharif defied house arrest Sunday to lead an anti-government convoy toward the barricaded capital and a showdown with its pro-Western president.

Earlier, Sharif’s supporters fought running battles with riot police in the eastern city of Lahore, a taste of what could come if authorities make good on pledges not to allow him and other anti-government protesters to enter Islamabad.

The power struggle between President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Sharif threatens to paralyze the one-year-old government and, alarmingly for the U.S., distract the nuclear-armed country from its fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants operating along the Afghan border.

“People have responded very overwhelmingly to the call of the hour, and I am thankful to the nation,” Sharif told Geo television by phone from his car. “This is a prelude to a revolution.”

A prolonged crisis could lead to early elections or force Zardari to resign, particularly if the powerful military decides to intervene. Sharif and Islamist parties would be well-placed to profit from any early elections given popular discontent with Zardari’s party.

Zardari’s spokesman said late Sunday the president had no intention of resigning, while the information minister repeated earlier offers of negotiations to end the standoff.

“We want to get the nation rid of this situation at the earliest, this state of instability and uncertainty,” Information Minister Qamar Zaman said.

Earlier Sunday, hundreds of police surrounded Sharif’s residence in Lahore, carrying an order for his house arrest, party spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed said. But Sharif, who denounced the order as illegal, later left the house in a convoy of vehicles and headed into town.
March 15th, 2009 in Breaking News, World Alerts