ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Police in riot gear attacked lawyers and journalists with batons, tear gas and rocks in a running battle Saturday at the gates of the Supreme Court, a day after judges ruled that President Pervez Musharraf can stand for another term.

The clash, which lasted nearly four hours, began when about 200 lawyers tried to march from the Supreme Court to the Election Commission to protest Musharraf’s candidacy. They were vastly outnumbered by security forces, who charged into the crowd swinging metal-tipped sticks. The lawyers fought back, and a melee ensued in which more than 40 people were injured.

Police chased the black-suited lawyers onto the grounds of the Supreme Court, which was shrouded in a haze of tear gas for much of the day. One protester was beaten as he tried to retreat into the court building. After he collapsed to the ground, uniformed officers continued to thrash him with sticks, while plainclothes security officials pelted him with rocks.

“This is a naked dictatorship,” said lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir, her shawl soaked in blood after she used it to stanch the bleeding from a fellow lawyer’s head wound. “Musharraf wants to show he is lord and master. He wants to show he has the gun. When you have no moral authority, you use what you have.”

Private television stations that had been broadcasting live coverage of the protests were swiftly taken off the air as the violence began. When Pakistani journalists tried to enter the Election Commission, they, too, were attacked by police. At least six were injured.

“We were just here to cover the event,” said Mazhar Abbas, secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. “I simply don’t understand why the government did this.”

Soon afterward, government information minister Tariq Azim Khan showed up at the scene in the back of an ambulance. Irate journalists yanked him from the vehicle and started to pummel him with their fists before police grabbed him back and whisked him away.

Saturday’s violence, which also included smaller-scale clashes in the cities of Peshawar and Karachi, showed that despite receiving a major boost from a favorable Supreme Court ruling Friday, Musharraf’s troubles might not be over. While lawyers were hoping to knock him off the ballot, the court opted instead to let Musharraf run for a new term in an election slated for Oct. 6. Now the lawyers are hoping to take their struggle to the streets.

Government officials said the security crackdown was necessary to maintain law and order after the lawyers had threatened to storm the Election Commission building and tear up Musharraf’s nomination papers.

“The lawyers, and to some extent the journalists, they started it,” said Khan, who was not seriously injured.

As chaos reigned in the street outside, the Election Commission met to review the eligibility of the 43 candidates who filed papers this week to run for president. Only six were approved, including Musharraf, who is believed to be the only candidate with sufficient support in the national and provincial assemblies to win.

Lawyers have been campaigning against Musharraf for months. They say his election would be invalid because he is trying to secure another five years in office from assemblies that are about to expire. They also object to his plan to run while in uniform. Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 military-led coup, has said he will step down as army chief if he wins another term.

“Except for the blind Americans and British, everyone sees this as a farce,” said Aitzaz Ahsan, a top opposition lawyer. “The people of Pakistan are being deprived of their right to choose the president of Pakistan.”

Ahsan, who led the legal fight to restore Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry after Musharraf tried to fire him earlier this year, was himself beaten by police Saturday. “I didn’t do anything to provoke them. But they targeted me,” Ahsan said.

Musharraf will face another legal challenge next week, and opponents have vowed to resign from the assemblies on Tuesday to further erode the credibility of the election. But anti-Musharraf leaders concede that mobilizing the public is their best hope for ousting the general.

While Musharraf is unpopular in Pakistan, opponents have struggled to broaden the lawyers’ movement and bring ordinary people into the streets to protest his rule. The opposition parties have been badly disorganized and unable to settle on a strategy. Meanwhile, the government has taken elaborate steps to block large demonstrations, including preemptively arresting hundreds of anti-Musharraf activists.

But lawyer Ali Ahmed Kurd indicated that Saturday’s clash could be a turning point.

“We are actually at war,” he said. “On one side are the 160 million people of Pakistan, the civil society, the journalists and the legal fraternity. On the other side is only one general, who is a military dictator.”

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Special correspondent Shahzad Khurram contributed to this report.

AP-NY-09-29-07 1704EDT


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