Musharraf's UAE-based supporters plan protest

Former president Pervez Musharraf is currently under house arrest after a court banned him from contesting the recent elections in Pakistan.

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DUBAI // Members of Pervez Musharraf's political party in the UAE say they are willing to fly to Pakistan to stage public protests to try to get him freed.

The former Pakistan president ended four years of self-imposed exile at the end of March to return home and contest the country's general election.

But the courts banned him from taking part and he is now under house arrest on charges that he unlawfully detained judges in 2007. "We are going to discuss plans for party members from the UAE to go back to Pakistan and hold and organise public protests against how Mr Musharraf is being treated by the authorities there," said Tabish Zaidi, a representative of Mr Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party based in Dubai.

"What is happening to him there is politically motivated and we strongly believe he has a lot of support among normal Pakistanis who want to see him freed."

The UAE branch of the party is to hold meetings this week to discuss the proposal and a decision is expected by the weekend.

"Obviously our members work in the UAE as well so if we do decide to go there needs to be some organising done first," said Mr Zaidi, a member of the party's central working committee.

About 100 members could potentially take part in the protests.

"This would have to be done before the start of Ramadan and within the next month or so," said Mr Zaidi. "The idea would be to develop a grassroots protest movement in Pakistan at the treatment of Mr Musharraf.

"We are also going to be looking at running media campaigns to get our message across."

Despite boycotting Saturday's elections, APML managed to secure two seats, one each in the national and provincial assemblies.

Mr Musharraf is also fighting charges that he did not provide adequate security to the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, before her assassination in 2007.

"Mr Musharraf has done nothing wrong and he is very confident he will be able to prove his innocence in court if he's given a fair hearing," said Mr Zaidi.

Fareaha Farooqi, an APML member, who works in the banking sector in Dubai, says she is not afraid of the potential security risks of protesting in Pakistan.

"Mr Musharraf took the risk to go back despite all the threats against him and we can't just sit here and do nothing," she said.

She said she planned to go over with her family at least for 30 days during her annual leave and was willing to stay longer.

"I'm prepared to be their as long as it takes," she said. "We will protest in front of the court during the hearings to bring attention to Mr Musharraf's situation."

She said his supporters wanted the court hearings broadcast live on television so that the public could see what was happening inside the court room.

"I think hundreds of people will go over to protest from the UAE," she said. "Many people will be going over with their families and I know many others are willing to go on their own.

"We want to show him that he is not alone and we are going to support him."

Mr Musharraf has also faced death threats from the Taliban and a car bomb had to be defused by police close to his home in the outskirts of Islamabad last month.

Mr Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999. He was president from 2001 to 2008.