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Pakistan Suspends Media Restrictions; protests against President continue to swell

New Delhi, Fri, 08 Jun 2007 NI Wire

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June 08: Government of Pakistan suspended media restrictions after a backlash both within the country and abroad.

The restrictions, effective from Monday, had elicited a sharp response from journalists within the country as well as free media advocates. The rules, approved by President General Pervez Musharraf, conferred great powers to cancel television broadcaster’s licenses and take control of any violator of regulations.

The country is under immense pressure from different quarters because of an immediate and hastily taken attempt to quash the freedom of media within the country. Pakistan government seems to be going through one of the worst political crisis since the present president took the office in a blood less coup.

While explaining the suspension of regulations, Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani was reportedly quoted as, “The regulations had been misinterpreted and would be put on hold as a show of good faith while the government negotiates with broadcasters. There's no intention on the part of the government to take a harsh line."

Meanwhile, media fraternity within the country doesn’t seem to be amused by the latest suspension. Hamid Mir, Islamabad bureau chief for Geo TV, a private broadcaster there, was quoted by media agencies while comparing it with a temporary and non-serious attempt. “The government has made clear it wants to intimidate the news media, having pressured cable companies to block several stations' transmissions earlier this week. The suspension of the new rules is only temporary, and I strongly doubted that President Pervez Musharraf or his government would relent in their efforts,” he reportedly said while giving his reaction.

President Musharraf took the decision of regulating the media outlets within the country when he expressed his desire to extend his rule this fall for another five-year term by the outgoing Parliament. His plans got complicated three months ago when he suspended the nation's chief justice, sparking a massive opposition campaign against his eight-year-old government. Since then, more than 40 people have been killed in clashes blamed on a pro-Musharraf group, and lawyers and journalists have come under attack from government forces. Independent television stations have given the crisis wall-to-wall coverage.

During his rule from last 8 years, observers are now of the opinion that the present phase for President Musharraf is most decisive. On Thursday, demonstrations against the government continued, with 7,000 people massing in the eastern city of Lahore to express their support for the chief justice, Mohammed Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The controversy got murkier when three top military officials denied in the court papers that they had pressured Chaudhry to quit. He had earlier asserted that he was held against his will for more than five hours on March 9, as the nation's intelligence chiefs and other top Musharraf aides pushed him to step down. Chaudhry said he resisted the pressure and was suspended instead.

The government suspended Chaudhry because of alleged abuses of office, which Chaudhry has denied. His aides have said that he was targeted because he threatened Musharraf's plans to consolidate power.

With the suspension of regulations to control the media and ever increasing anti-Musharraf protests within the country, smooth sailing of president to next term seems impossible. Even then nobody can bet on political nature of the country, which remained in the garb of military regimes even during civilian rule from time to time.

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