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President Pervez Musharraf formalizes his candidacy for new five-year term

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf formalized his candidacy for a new five-year term Thursday as security forces sealed off the Pakistani capital to prevent a planned protest by angry attorneys.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz went to the Election Commission, along with some of the other 16 legislators who endorsed Musharraf's candidacy, to file the general's official nomination papers.

Mushahid Hussain, secretary-general of Musharraf's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, expressed confidence that Musharraf would win the Oct. 6 vote by federal and provincial legislators despite critics who say he cannot run while remaining army chief.

"We have enough support for the victory," Hussain said.

Lawyers had said Wednesday they would defy a ban on public gatherings of more than five people in Islamabad and stage a "historic" protest against Musharraf. They urged the public to join in.

But a massive security presence left the area around the Election Commission and the nearby Supreme Court deserted except for thousands of riot police, special forces commandos and plainclothes officers.

The government said it would prevent any disruption as part of a crackdown on opposition protests ahead of the election.

"This is a deplorable act on the government's part," said Munir Malik, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. "Why are they scared of peaceful protest? This is our basic right.

"We are ready to face whatever happens, but we will not let Gen. Musharraf have a clear field. We are ready to die," Malik told The Associated Press.

With a blockade of Constitution Avenue - one of the capital's main thoroughfares - lawyers had to walk the last stretch to file nomination papers for their candidate, retired Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed.

Ahmed told a small group of lawyers outside the Supreme Court that he considered the country's best interests in deciding to run, adding that "the entire nation has united against a military dictator."

"God willing, we will succeed," Ahmed said.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, also filed his nomination papers. The PPP said Tuesday he would only contest the election if Musharraf is barred.

That indicated the party did not plan to run directly against Musharraf, who has held monthslong talks with Bhutto that could see them share power after parliamentary elections due by January.

Syed Mohammed Iqtidar, a former medical college teacher in Lahore, also submitted his nomination papers.

Police blocked roads leading into Islamabad overnight with trucks and shipping containers, letting virtually no one through.

Sufie Mohammad, who told police he needed to take his ailing father to a hospital, was turned back, as were parents trying to take their children to school.

"I will be sorry if your father dies," a police officer told Mohammad. "But I have strict instructions that no one will be allowed to go into Islamabad today."

Musharraf has seen his popularity and power erode since his botched effort to fire the Supreme Court's chief justice earlier this year. Lawyers were at the forefront of mass protests then, claiming the general was illegally interfering in the judiciary.

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