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Pakistan has begun releasing thousands of people who were detained in the state of emergency there. The detainees are mostly middleclass professionals who are rounded up for protesting against Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf. But government officials were quick to warn that people could be rearrested if there are new widespread protests against Musharraf.
NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Islamabad.
JACKIE NORTHAM: More than 3,400 lawyers, judges, civil rights activist and members of the political opposition parties have been released from jails across Pakistan so far. And the government said another 2,000 are expected to be let go sometime in the next few days. Most were arrested earlier this month after taking to the streets to show their anger when President Pervez Musharraf invoked a state of emergency, suspended the constitution, purged the country's supreme court and gagged independent media. Musharraf said the state of emergency was to prevent a rise of terrorism in Pakistan.
Senator Anwar Baig, a member of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, says it wasn't terrorist that Musharraf was going after.
ANWAR BAIG: He has arrested political leaders over here, and he's charged them on the terrorist act. For God's sake, these moderate political forces are terrorists? I mean, I was shocked Mr. Musharraf even arrested schoolchildren. They were protesting against this emergency rule. So, I mean, I don't know what's gone wrong with the administration over here. They've gone crazy.
NORTHAM: Even as the government was releasing some detainees, security forces continue to arrest others.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language).
Unidentified Group: Go Musharraf. Go Musharraf.
Man: (Speaking foreign language).
Group: Go Musharraf. Go Musharraf.
NORTHAM: In Islamabad, several dozen journalists held a rally calling for Musharraf's dismissal. Police blocked off roads surrounding the loud but peaceful demonstration. It was a different story in other parts of the country. In Karachi, police charged a group of reporters, beating them with wooden batons. About 160 journalists across the country were arrested. Lawyers and political opponents were also picked up and jailed. Nasim Zehra, a political and security analyst, says Musharraf may be trying to buy some good will by releasing thousands of prisoners. But Zehra says the new arrests mean there's still not much tolerance.
NASIM ZEHRA: This really, clearly exhibits what the government's intentions, Musharraf regime's intentions are. They do not want assembly against Musharraf. They do not want public space occupied by protesters.
NORTHAM: Zehra says there's not a huge number of protesters, but they're angry and dedicated. She says it's unlikely the demonstrators will be cowed by the sweat of being rearrested.
ZEHRA: They're going to come out again tomorrow and again the state is going to repress and again they're going to resist. So you really have a cycle that is in place.
NORTHAM: Senator Baig says he's worried that the cycle of violence could spin out of control, especially if the election campaigning gets underway and the stakes get higher.
BAIG: I don't want that the people of Pakistan shall be pushed through a wall where they'll retaliate. I'm scared. I'm very scared for the future of this country.
NORTHAM: Baig says as the elections get nearer, Musharraf will become more desperate to hang on to power. Today, Musharraf flew to Saudi Arabia where his nemesis and arch political rival, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is in exile. Musharraf overthrew Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999, and last month deported the former prime minister as the tried to return to Pakistan after years in exile.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Islamabad.
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