ISLAMABAD (Adapted from AFP) — Defying a growing crackdown on dissent by President Pervez Musharraf, young Pakistanis are using blogs and social networking sites to hit back at a state of emergency.
Plans for "flash" protests in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and other cities are being posted at the last minute to skirt a ban on all political rallies under repressive emergency laws.
The Internet has become a vital tool for them, with the government shutting down the country's biggest two private television news channels on Sunday and rounding up thousands of opposition leaders.
"We are coordinating protests with other universities across Pakistan using blogs, Facebook, cellphones and text messages," Ahmad, a student in his 20s from Lahore, told AFP.
He asked that his full name not be used in case he is traced by the authorities. Protesters can face jail if found guilty of inciting unrest, especially since Musharraf ruled that civilians can be tried in army courts.
"Authorities have also been monitoring movies that have been sent to CNN I-Reports so they can identify the students involved," he said, referring to a interactive reports on the international news network.
So far most protests have been small, but last week they escalated when 3,000 students from Lahore's Punjab university turned out for two days running to protest against the arrest of cricket legend Imran Khan.
Users can also click on videos showing the final transmission by Geo, the country's leading news channel, and a recording made in hiding by Khan before his arrest.
Pakistanis have also turned to blogs as a political tool, with one (http://emergencypk.blogspot.com/) being the major premier alert service for demonstrations.
Internet use has soared in Pakistan in the past five years, with service providers saying between five and 10 million people among Pakistan's youthful 160 million population are online.
The Internet was particularly important for some of the younger generation who were disillusioned not only with Musharraf but also with political leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who have dominated the scene here for years.
But young Pakistanis still lived in rural areas with no access to cyberspace.
So it can't yet play a pivotal role, for that we need genuine political leadership one protester added.
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