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Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Pakistanis describe rising tension

Clashes in the city of Karachi have marked the first day of an anti-government protest movement by lawyers in Pakistan.

Here protesters and citizens in major cities across the country describe tension and uncertainty as plans are made for the protest to move across the country.

KARACHI
Syed Zulfiqar Ali is a lawyer who took part in protests in Karachi this morning.

Pakistani lawyers make victory signs after their arrest during a protest rally in Karachi on March 12, 2009.
Protesters have clashed with police during rallies in Karachi
We went to the high court in the morning, our normal place of work. It was cordoned off. Quiet.

Many had been arrested, but only those who were more actively involved in this movement and a few key members of the Karachi bar association.

We took part in a planned rally from there and I went with a friend and a slogan banner and stood there.

Because of the restrictions on political gatherings most of us could not stand together. We were in quite a big group initially and then we were told to disperse, which we did slowly.

I will be going to join the march this evening. There are about 20-30 of us travelling in seven cars. First we will go to the city of Sukker. Frankly we are not worried by the restrictions.

I firmly believe that an independent and accountable judiciary is critical for any country to progress. I believe that strongly and that is why I am here today.


Journalist Kaziz Aizaz Alam saw heavy police presence on the streets of Karachi.


Kazim Aizaz Alam
While I was coming of the office I saw a lot of police, rangers and other law enforcement agency personnel making sure that there were no groups of lawyers and political workers and civil society activists on the move.

There was no confrontation when I was there. I think lawyers have been cautious. There have been arrest warrants issued for lawyers' leaders here.

I am convinced that the lawyers' cause is just. I am all in favour of the long march.

The Zardari regime has resorted to dictatorial measures by curtailing the citizens' right to hold peaceful protests and rally against the government.

But people here in Karachi are really scared of violence.

This is a big thing.


Business manager Ronald Peter won't be attending the protest but fears violence.

Ronald Peter
This morning while going to my office I witnessed a huge number of policemen equipped with heavy arms, tear gas shells and batons to stop the lawyers' procession. It seems as if we are heading for an internal war.

The police were outside the courts. Some friends told me that they had beaten some lawyers.

The physical action that was feared has started.

As a minority Christian in this country, I have never affiliated myself with any organisation - political or religious.

But although I won't be joining the march, I have some sympathy with the protesters. When President Zardari was running his political campaign, he made a lot of promises. After almost one year, they haven't been fulfilled.

This is a bitter but real fact.


Pensioner Farid Ansari says the long march should be called off.

I have not seen anything happening. But I have heard about what has happened in Karachi. There have been baton charges on lawyers and their supporters.

I do not believe in the politics of confrontation. Everything should be settled in a democratic manner.

I do not agree with the long march, rallies and protests. We have a parliament - everything can be settled there.

Should people go in a mob and settle matters like that?

LAHORE

Fraz Shafique
Fraz Shafique is a party worker for Imran Khan's party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in Lahore.

I am the welfare secretary for chairman Imran Khan's political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in Lahore.

All our party office bearers have been asked by party leaders to stay away from homes and avoid arrest to ensure our participation in the long march, which will leave Lahore on Sunday.

As far as our party is concerned, this is our raison d'etre. This is our culminating moment. The atmosphere in Lahore is very charged.

Today the police allowed the weekly rally by lawyers to go ahead but I don't know how they will be later. We have rallies coming here on Sunday from Karachi and Quetta. From here we will all proceed onto Islamabad.


Asim Akram is a lawyer in Lahore waiting for the protest to reach his city.

Asim Akram
All those participating in these protests have gone underground. They are not sitting in their offices.

In my office, activist lawyers have disappeared over the last couple of days.

This is because they don't want to be arrested. They want to be able to participate in the march. We all want to be available for the protest.

This is about the respect for the law, about restoring an institution and not just an individual.

I am a bit surprised that the government has taken this line. But the people leading this government are not elected.

From Lahore, I think people will go individually to Islamabad because they are not allowed to be in groups by the new restrictions.

ISLAMABAD-RAWALPINDI

Hussain Raja is in Rawalpindi and is waiting to participate in the rally.

I am waiting to participate and my friends are also waiting to participate. I am not a lawyer or politician but a simple Pakistani facing hardship in his daily life like inflation.

We are praying for peace and justice, because when there is justice every thing will be alright, and when there will be peace, we can sleep at night and rest.

I know we may not achieve our targets but we could make an effort.

The atmosphere here is not good everybody is watching and listening to the news.

Many policemen are gathering Islamabad and I am worried about the violence.


Ghulam Ghaus is an accountant in Islamabad who will take part in the rally when it reaches the city.

Ghulam Ghaus
I do intend to take part in the rallies because I respect the charter of the lawyers' movement. Someone has to stand up. Everyone has to contribute to this.

I know there are many difficulties because of the actions of those in power but the determination is still there.

I am not a die-hard supporter of Nawaz Sharif but he is the best option of the available lot. But as far as this movement is concerned we are here to revive justice.

For the moment all the entry and exit points in Islamabad are heavily manned by the police.

They have started putting up some hurdles, containers and trailers as well.



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