ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani police wielding batons and firing tear gas clashed on Saturday with lawyers and activists opposed to President Pervez Musharraf as the Election Commission accepted his nomination for an Oct. 6 vote. On Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed challenges to army chief Musharraf’s bid to seek re-election, clearing a major hurdle to his securing another term.
But despite the ruling, nuclear-armed Pakistan faces months of uncertainty as Musharraf faces fresh objections to his bid to control a country whose support is seen as crucial to U.S.-led efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and battle al Qaeda.
Violence erupted outside the Election Commission in Islamabad when a group of about 200 lawyers and activists tried to march from the Supreme Court, across an avenue, to the Election Commission after Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz arrived.
Aziz officially proposed Musharraf for president, and was at the commission in case he needed to defend the nomination during scrutiny.
Musharraf’s opponents later raised objections to his nomination on various grounds, including that he remains army chief, but the commission rejected them.
A lawyer for the opposition, Hamid Khan, said Musharraf’s nomination would be challenged in court on Monday, when lawyers had also called for a day of protest against Saturday’s violence.
The commission later said Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, was among six candidates whose nominations were accepted.
The two other main candidates are Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former judge who refused to swear allegiance to Musharraf after his coup, and a member of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s party, Makhdoom Amin Faheem.
Members of parliament and of provincial assemblies will vote for a president next Saturday before the assemblies are dissolved for a general election due by mid-January when Musharraf’s ruling alliance is expected to suffer losses and lose its majority.
Musharraf has vowed to quit the army, his main source of power, after winning another term. Nevertheless, members of an opposition alliance say they will resign their seats on Tuesday.
The resignations would not derail the vote but they would rob it of credibility, especially if Bhutto’s party walked out.
She has been in power-sharing talks with Musharraf but has insisted he quit the army before seeking re-election.
Earlier, police baton-charged the protesters as they tried to march on the Election Commission.
Black-suited lawyers, who have been at the forefront of opposition to Musharraf since he tried to fire the chief justice in March, threw stones at police and chanted “go
Musharraf, go!” as police fired tear gas.
Several people, including lawyers and reporters, were seen with bloody heads and several people were overcome by tear gas.
An official said 12 police were hurt.
Police later fired tear gas to keep the protesters bottled up in the Supreme Court compound.
“This military rule will come to an end. No one can stop our movement,” prominent opposition lawyer Ali Ahmed Kurd told reporters after he was briefly detained. Police beat another leader of the lawyers, Aitzaz Ahsan.
Reporters said police also beat them and reporters later pulled Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan from a vehicle and roughed him up. Cable news channels went off the air in Islamabad but it was not clear if authorities had blocked them.
Police and protesters also clashed in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.
The Supreme Court dismissed three petitions challenging Musharraf’s right to hold the posts of both president and army chief, the legality of being elected in uniform, and whether he should receive a mandate from the outgoing assemblies.
Their dismissal on the grounds they were not “maintainable” had averted turmoil but much uncertainty lay ahead, newspapers said. Had the court blocked Musharraf’s re-election, analysts say he might have imposed emergency rule.