In Pakistan this morning, dictator General Musharaff defied his Supreme Court to deport a major rival, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
While Musharraf has fended off the immediate challenge from a rival by deporting Sharif, the president is likely to face a backlash from many Pakistanis already tired of what they see as his dictatorial rule and rising prices.Sharif had originally agreed to a ten year absence instead of a possible life sentence on hijacking and corruption charges when Musharaff exiled him five years ago. However, both he and another former prime minister who faced corruption charges, Benazir Bhutto, had vowed to return to contest Musharaff's continued rule. Bhutto is reported to be trying to cut a power-sharing deal with Musharaff, something Sharif has said is selling out democracy.
The country, an important U.S. ally, now faces weeks of uncertainty as Musharraf attempts to secure another term in a presidential election in the national and provincial assemblies between September 15 and October 15.
A general election is due around the end of the year.
Sharif's supporters said they would fight the government in the courts and politically.
"For all practical purposes there is now martial law in Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf is the chief martial law administrator," said Sharif party spokesman Siddiq Farooq.
"We are going to take this issue up with the Supreme Court as well as with the people of Pakistan," he said.
The Supreme Court said last month Sharif had the right to return and the government should not try to stop him.
The European Union said the Supreme Court ruling should have been respected. In Washington, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council said Sharif's treatment was an internal matter, while urging fair elections. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is due for scheduled talks this week.When you start ignoring your own highest court, detaining thousands of members of a rival political party who have themselves broken no law, preventing travel and shooting at those protesting your dictatorial behaviour, then you should expect people to conclude you have no intention of supporting democratic reform. Bhutto would now be ill-advised to continue to try to cut a deal with Musharaff. And the U.S. should end its hypocrisy and live up to this administration's rhetoric about supporting liberty and democracy aganist dictatorship everywhere in the world.
Authorities had imposed a major clampdown before Sharif flew in from London, detaining leaders, spokesmen and activists of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party, stopping supporters from traveling to the capital and sealing off Islamabad airport.
Sharif's party was unable to mobilize mass protests but groups of supporters clashed with police as they tried to make their way to the airport to greet their leader. Five people were hurt in an exchange of fire but protesters later dispersed.
Sharif, 57, was arrested after a melee in an airport lounge where he and his supporters were taken after a tense 90-minute standoff with authorities on board the aircraft he arrived on.
...Before his arrival, authorities had detained about 4,000 supporters and party leaders, as well as leaders of an allied religious alliance, party officials said.