Opposition leader to challenge Musharraf
LAHORE, Pakistan – One of Pakistan’s most outspoken opposition leaders emerged from prison to a cheering crowd Saturday and vowed to press his campaign against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is already struggling with rising dissent and militant violence.Attacks and clashes killed 23 people in the northern tribal regions, where pro-Taliban militants have been waging a campaign against Musharraf’s administration, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism.The combination of militant violence and political demands for the restoration of democracy have embroiled Musharraf in the toughest period of his rule since he ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup eight years ago.Almost certain to add to his troubles was the release of Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the exiled former prime minister’s party.The Supreme Court granted Hashmi bail Friday after he served four years of a 23-year sentence on charges of treason and inciting an army mutiny against Musharraf. Hasmi will be free while the court considers whether it should review his case, which rights and opposition groups have criticized as politically motivated.Hundreds of members of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N gathered outside the prison, some with drums and horns. As Hashmi emerged, they rushed forward, waving the green flags of Sharif’s party and chanting: “Brave man, Hashmi, Hashmi!””My fight was for the restoration of democracy, and the true freedom for me will come the day when we will get rid of those generals who toppled the elected government,” Hashmi said.”There will be no compromise with the dictators,” he said. “I will only consider myself a free man when the entire nation will get freedom from these generals.”One of the jurists who released Hashmi was Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, whom Musharraf tried and failed to unseat in what opponents called an attempt to remove a potentially powerful opponent who could have derailed the president’s push for a new five-year term.Draped in a flower garland, Hashmi climbed onto the front of a four-wheel-drive vehicle to lead a procession to a shrine through the streets of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city and its cultural capital.Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N is one of the main groups on Pakistan’s fractured political scene, and the former prime minister remains its powerful figurehead. It had been in an anti-Musharraf alliance with party of another exiled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, until last month, when speculation intensified about the deal between Bhutto and Musharraf.Sharif appealed to the Supreme Court on Thursday to be allowed to return from exile to contest parliamentary elections later this year. Musharraf has said he would block any such attempt.In the North West Frontier Province, violence continued unabated as a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at a busy bus station in the town of Parachinar, killing nine people and wounding 35, police official Mohammed Kamal said.In the nearby tribal region of North Waziristan, pro-Taliban militants assaulted a security checkpoint in Oblanki, triggering a shootout that killed four soldiers and 10 militants, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad. Five other soldiers were wounded.The security situation in Pakistan, especially in the tribal zone bordering Afghanistan, has been deteriorating for weeks, and almost daily attacks have killed more than 350 people in that time.The U.S. is demanding for tougher action against al-Qaida sanctuaries along the Afghan border, and some American officials have raised the prospects of unilateral strikes.—-Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Bashirullah Khan in Miran Shah and Munir Ahmad in Islamabad contributed to this report.