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Pakistani police storm TV channel

Story Highlights

• Musharraf suspended chief justice last week, placed him under house arrest
• The move has triggered protests by lawyers in several cities
• Opposition politicians arrested and media blackouts ahead of court case
• Chaudhry has been asserting judicial independence in recent cases
From CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani riot police on Friday used rubber bullets and tear gas to subdue a crowd, arrested opposition politicians and raided a TV station as protests were staged ahead of a controversial court hearing of the country's dismissed top judge.

The crackdown came as Pakistan's Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, accused by President Pervez Musharraf of abusing his powers, was to hear the charges against him.

Protests led by attorneys erupted several days ago when Chaudhry placed under house arrest, culminating Friday in stormy scenes outside the country's Supreme Court in Islamabad and the city of Lahore.

Police and witnesses told CNN that officers opened fire on crowds with rubber bullets and released tear gas canisters.

Police also stormed the private Geo television, breaking windows, scuffling with staff and demanding the removal of a roof-top camera covering the disturbances.

Geo bureau chief Hamid Mir, who later received a televized apology from Musharraf, said officers broke windows, scuffled with staff and released teargas in the office.

"They tried to drag me out," Mir said on air during the raid, according to Reuters. "They're demanding a camera installed on the roof should be removed."

The channel broadcast live pictures of the police forcing their way into the channel's building, and Geo vehicles parked outside were damaged.

Musharraf critized the police violence in a phone interview with Mir and promised to punish those responsible.

"I would like to tell the nation, main strength of my reforms are, these are freedom of peace, freedom of expression, freedom of media. this is our mandate, supremacy of human rights, this is also our mandate. So violation of these, I strongly condemn it."

Opponents raided

Chaudhry was appointed to the court by Musharraf in 2005, but recently started asserting judicial independence from the government in a number of cases involving the disappearance of terror suspects and human rights activists.

CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi in Lahore said Pakistan's media regulatory authority issued written and verbal warnings to local media outlets demanding that journalists not report on Friday's judicial proceedings.

Police also sealed off the city's main entrance points and restricted access to parliament.

In the days leading up the to hearing, police sources also told CNN the government made approximately 400 arrests.

Early Friday morning, police raided the houses of numerous members of parliament, arresting about 20 members and placing key opposition leader Qazi Hussain Ahmad under house arrest.

Former Pakistani President Muhammad Rafiq Tarar was also arrested.

In addition, police picked up 40 lawyers traveling to the capital.

On Thursday, the government pulled the plug on a leading prime-time television program because of what it deemed to be negative coverage of Musharraf's fight with Chaudhry, senior government sources said.

Kamran Khan, who hosts a show on the Geo TV network, told CNN he had been banned from doing his show as of Thursday. Sources told CNN that other shows are likely to be banned as well.

Musharraf's critics accuse him of intimidating the judiciary ahead of crucial elections and a vote in parliament to extend his rule later this year.

Musharraf seized power in a military coup more than seven years ago, but under Pakistan's constitution, he has to surrender his position as army chief unless he gets the backing of the Supreme Court, headed by Chaudhry.

Musharraf is believed to want to remain in military uniform to bolster his standing in the country, but his popularity is waning because of his support for the U.S. war on terror.

He has also been criticized by some U.S. lawmakers and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai for not doing enough to crack down on Taliban and al Qaeda remnants in the mountainous tribal areas of western Pakistan.

Karzai blames Musharraf for allowing the militants to cross the border and wage attacks in Afghanistan.


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