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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

United States Urges "Utmost" Restraint After Pakistan Protests

16 March 2007

State's McCormack calls for transparency in case of suspended judge

Washington -- The Bush administration urged Pakistani authorities and protesters to “exercise the utmost degree of restraint” in the wake of violent clashes that followed the suspension of the country’s chief justice.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said March 16 that the dispute between President Pervez Musharraf’s government and the Pakistani judiciary over the justice’s removal “needs to be worked out within the confines of Pakistani law, tradition and their constitution,” adding it would be helpful if the process is done in a “completely transparent and aboveboard” manner, and the Pakistani government explains its actions.

Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on March 9, prompting protests in the capital, Islamabad.

“[C]learly, there was a confrontation between the police and the protesters that led to the use of tear gas and other actions by the police. We would just urge both sides to exercise restraint. Protesters should be able to exercise their right to freely voice their opinions with respect to political matters, and the police have a job to do as well,” McCormack said.

“We would just urge that in doing that job, they allow for the free protests and that neither side takes actions that would deliberately provoke the other into a violent confrontation. That's the way that this needs to work,” he continued.

McCormack said Ambassador Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, had met with Pakistani officials March 15 to discuss the situation and the events proceeding it, and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker also has spoken to officials “to better understand the situation.”

The spokesman said he hoped that “in the days ahead,” further clashes “could be avoided.”

McCormack also stressed the importance of free expression, including a free press operating in developing democracies, saying “in the end [it] only serves to strengthen the country rather than weaken it.”

He said President Musharraf addressed the Pakistani police action raid against independent GEO TV, in which the station was prevented from broadcasting news of the protests.

“[H]e has said that those actions should not have taken place and that the journalists and TV media should be able to be free to report on events that are transpiring in their country.”

McCormack described Musharraf as “a good friend and ally in the War on Terror,” who “has a vision for Pakistan in terms of political and economic and social reform.”  He added that Musharraf is “acting in the best interests of Pakistan and the Pakistani people.”

The United States is encouraging Pakistan’s democratic development, and McCormack said “changes … have been made. And President Musharraf has made progress in that regard.

“Is there more to do? Yes, there is. Absolutely,” he said.

Musharraf also believes cooperation in the War on Terror is important, and that terrorists “pose as great a threat to Pakistan's future as anything else,” he said.

Telling reporters Musharraf has escaped two assassination attempts from terrorist groups, McCormack said the Pakistani leader “understands what's at stake not only for the rest of the world, but for Pakistan itself.”

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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