Opposition leader freed, vows anti-Musharraf push

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LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — One of Pakistan’s most outspoken opposition leaders emerged from prison to a cheering crowd yesterday and vowed to press his campaign against President Pervez Musharraf, who is already struggling with rising dissent and militant violence.

Attacks and clashes killed 23 persons in the northern tribal regions, where pro-Taliban militants have been waging a campaign against Gen. Musharraf’s administration, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism.

The combination of militant violence and political demands for the restoration of democracy have embroiled Gen. Musharraf in the toughest period of his rule since he ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup eight years ago.

Almost certain to add to his troubles was the release of Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the exiled former prime minister’s party.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court granted Mr. Hashmi bail Friday after he served four years of a 23-year sentence on charges of treason and inciting an army mutiny against Gen. Musharraf.

Hundreds of members of Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz gathered outside the prison, chanting: “Brave man, Hashmi, Hashmi.”

“My fight was for the restoration of democracy, and the true freedom for me will come the day when we will get rid of those generals who toppled the elected government,” Mr. Hashmi said.

“There will be no compromise with the dictators,” he said. “I will only consider myself a free man when the entire nation will get freedom from these generals.”

One of the jurists who released Mr. Hashmi was Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, whom Gen. Musharraf tried and failed to unseat in what opponents called an attempt to remove a potentially powerful opponent who could have derailed the president’s push for a new five-year term.

Mr. Sharif’s party had been in an anti-Musharraf alliance with the party of another exiled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, until last month, when speculation intensified about a deal between Mrs. Bhutto and Gen. Musharraf.

Mr. Sharif appealed to the Supreme Court on Thursday to be allowed to return from exile to contest parliamentary elections later this year. Gen. Musharraf has said he would block any such attempt.

In the North-West Frontier Province, violence continued unabated as a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at a busy bus station in the town of Parachinar, killing nine persons and wounding 35, police said.

In the nearby tribal region of North Waziristan, pro-Taliban militants assaulted a security checkpoint in Oblanki, triggering a shootout that killed four soldiers and 10 militants, an army spokesman said. Five other soldiers were wounded.

The security situation in Pakistan, especially in the tribal zone bordering Afghanistan, has been deteriorating for weeks, and almost daily attacks have killed more than 350 people.

Washington is demanding tougher action against al Qaeda sanctuaries along the Afghan border, and some American officials have raised the prospects of unilateral strikes.

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