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November 20, 2007
Musharraf Releases Some Detainees
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has released almost 3500 opposition leaders in a hopeful sign that his rule by decree may be easing.
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema put the exact figure of those freed in recent days at 3,416 — including lawyers and political activists — and said more than 2,000 people remained jailed. Then again, as quickly as he is emptying the prisons, he starts to fill them up again. Police detained 23 journalists who tried to hold a rally in the southern city of Hyderabad.
"The process has started. More are being released today," Cheema said, adding that those still in detention "would be freed soon" though he said the cases of some facing criminal charges could take longer.
Musharraf, who left for a visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, has been under immense pressure from Washington to free opposition leaders, end media restrictions and step down as head of the armed forces.
The releases came hours after judges hand-picked by Musharraf quashed legal challenges to his disputed re-election as president. Still, many high-ranking party activists and leaders, such as former cricket star Imran Khan, remained in prison. Khan began a hunger strike Monday to protest emergency rule.
But it appears that overall, the pressure being exerted by the international community on Musharraf to lift the state of emergency and resign from the army may be having an effect. But resuming talks with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on power sharing appear a long way off. Bhutto insisted yesterday that she has no plans to meet with Musharraf as long as he remains in power.