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MY Dictator In Town

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By Farooq Sulehria

Stockholm. Its July 5. The elite (read elitist) School of Economics at Sveavägen 65 is encircled by gun-totting police. Riot police on horse-back are also there. The sinister noise of the helicopter constantly hovering over.makes the atmosphere even malign. No vehicles are allowed to ply Sveavägen, one of the most busy roads during daytime. Only police jeeps and cars are running back and forth. Stunned, perplexed Stockholmites cannot understand what in fact is going on. here

It was here at Sveavägen, a road bisecting heart of the town, Olof Palme was murdered on a cold December evening back in 1986. Not so long from this School of Economics. Now he lays buried close to this scene.

But today its not some high profile murder that has induced this hyper police movement. It actually is concerned with a 'murderer'. This is what the demonstrators chanting close by call him: 'Musharraf mördare. Persson Hycklare' (Musharraf is murderer. Persson is hypocrite).

But the police are not here to arrest the 'mordare' It actually is there to protect him. Because he is a state guest.

The military dictator from Pakistan has been invited by the 'hycklare' to visit the House of Social Democracy. Earlier he had lunch with social democratic Swedish prime minister, Göran Persson. At 1430, he addressed a press conference. I wanted to attend this press conference. I contacted Gunilla Rohlen, the press secretary at Statsrådsberedningen (Prime Minister's secretariat). The Statsrådsberedningen had in advance circulated on their website a message for the journalists: 'Media wishing to attend the press briefing must apply by 12.00 on Friday 2 July at the latest.' I applied a day ahead of deadline. I also gave Ms Gunilla a ring. She enlightened me as to the procedure of enrolling myself for this press conference. I punctually followed her instructions. Until Monday morning i.e July 5, I was not intimated if I could attend this press conference or not. I rang Gunilla on Monday morning myself.

There was no surprise waiting for me. I knew the answer. I was refused. I knew it from the beginning but wanted to know the excuse Media Brahmins would make to stop me from going to this holy press conference.

Guess what? ' I could not open your mail', said Gunilla. 'How come. It was not in file form', I asked. She had no answer. 'For some strange reason it could not be opened', she said.

I was rather advised to contact Acting Press Secretary Anna Helsen on her mobile. Anna was responsible for this press conference. Anna had a strange problem with me. I was not a accredited Swedish journalist, she told Marco Espvall, editor Internationalen. I write for Internationalen, a Stockholm-based weekly. 'Well, can I send someone else in place of Farooq', asked Marco. No, that was not possible either for Anna as it was a press conference 'with high security' and time for registration had passed .

Only carefully chosen stenographers from mainstream newspapers posing as journalists were considered fit for copying notes at this 'high security risk' press conference. These stenographers were more concerned about Göran Persson's health. He recently had an operation. There was no upholder of the 'objectivity' (a cliché Swedish media cherish a lot) who dared ask Göran: How come a military dictator is on an official visit in our democratic country?

Nobody dared ask Musharraf an explanation of his crimes. List of his crimes is long. But asking at least about the killings of one dozen peasants at Okara Military Farms could not have been in contradiction with 'objectivity'.

I had hardly finished talking with Anna on phone when Naeem, a friend of mine rang and informed: 'Police have not allowed us demonstrate outside the School of Economics'.

Police had a strange excuse. We did not seek permission five days in advance. I had a big laugh when Naeem told me this. Actually we both had a good laugh. Even the Swedish Utrikesdepartmentet (foreign office) 'did not know', 'five days in advance' if Musharraf was coming. My friend Jatoi had found out somehow about the proposed visit by end-June. Also, section of the Swedish press had hinted at the proposed visit saying Musharraf was coming to buy 40 Jas fighter planes.

Small but concerned Pakistani community in Stockholm was agitated on this news. Every single Pakistani I met in last two weeks has been ringing both Utrikesdepartmentet and Pakistan embassy in Stockholm 'five days in advance' to find out if the news was correct. None was confirming it. They did not know 'five days in advance' either about the visit or the deal.

'We should protest come what may. Maximum we will be arrested. We cannot stay quiet on the crimes a dictator is committing in our names', I told Naeem. He readily agreed.

By 3 o'clock we had gathered outside the School of Economics cardond off by smartly dressed Swedish police. In half an hour over 50 Pakistanis, men and women, had gathered. Few Swedish ever present left activists had also joined. We informed this small but charged gathering about the police decision. Nobody was ready to budge. Police on realising our determination made a compromise. We were asked to leave the spot and hold the demo 100 meters away from the venue. We agreed. It was a charged demo.

'No-Musharraf-No, Go-Musharraf-Go' chants could be heard all across.

Paparazzi littering the venue were focusing and flashing on anything possible----from horse shit to masked commandos----but the demonstrators. We did not exist. Objectivity ?

At the time of filing this report on July 6, Musharraf is addressing a gathering of the 'Pakistanis'. at the five star Grand Hotel. Me and my friends wanted to listen him. We contacted Pakistan embassy. Many times. First we were told the invitations had not yet been sent. Next day, all of a sudden all invitations had been sent and we were late. My request for an interview with Musharraf for Internationalen as well as for my upcoming book on Pakistan was also declined by Pakistan embassy I was told he was too busy to spare time for an interview. with me He must be. It takes time to agree upon kickbacks. I am not privileged enough to have acess to official files. This is a privilege journalists from so-called mainstream newspapers afford. I therefore cannot find out how much Ericsson has offered for its radars it is selling to Musharraf. Hope some stenographer comes across this 'exclusive' someday.

By the way, on protest launched by Olof Palme Centre on stopping me from attending the press conference, Statsrådsberedningen has begged pardon.

Before going to the demo, I had informed my Swedish friends in trade unions and political parties how I was stopped from going to the press conference. My friend Jan Hoddan at Olof Palme International Centre strongly protested to the Statsrodsberedningen. Some Statsrådsberedningen official rang Marco and begged pardon. But this time the problem was not with opening of email.

' It was deleted by mistake', Marco was told.

I think Marco knows the deleted emails do not immediately disappear. They go to a folder.

Perhaps Gunilla does not know that.

 
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