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Pakistan protests continue over chief judge’s suspension

From the Associated Press

Angry lawyers scuffled with police officers Wednesday as protests continued across Pakistan over the removal of the nation’s top judge.

President Pervez Musharraf suspended Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, chief justice of the Supreme Court, on March 9 on unspecified allegations of abuse of office.

Chaudhry is seen as an independent-minded judge who has pursued human rights cases and rulings against the government, but officials say that was not the reason for Musharraf’s decision.

However, lawyers are conducting a nationwide strike, and opposition parties have accused Musharraf of trying to tame the Supreme Court before elections this year that are expected to trigger legal challenges to his rule.

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The protests and stinging criticism in Pakistan’s media have left Musharraf facing the biggest political crisis since he seized power in 1999 in a bloodless coup.

The United States, which backs Musharraf for his pledges to return Pakistan to democracy and to help fight terrorism, has expressed “deep concern” about the controversy.

European envoys “stressed the importance the EU attaches to the respect for the independence of the judiciary, especially in view of the upcoming election process,” said a statement from the German Embassy.

On Wednesday, about 3,000 lawyers rallied in the eastern city of Lahore, chanting anti-government slogans. The demonstrators staged a sit-in at a traffic intersection near the Punjab provincial legislature.

Lawyers also boycotted proceedings at courts throughout the province, said M. Ahsan Dhoon, president of the High Court Bar Assn.

Before the protest, police detained about 100 opposition activists in raids on their homes to forestall any violence, a Lahore police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

In the southwestern city of Quetta, about 200 lawyers at an anti-Musharraf rally scuffled with police officers, who wielded truncheons and fired tear gas.

Rallies also were held in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, and in Islamabad, the capital, where hundreds of supporters of opposition religious parties rallied near the Supreme Court.

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According to a government document reprinted in Pakistan’s News daily, the allegations against Chaudhry include that he bullied officials to help his son secure a police job and that he drove a car with a bigger-than-allowed engine. There also is a vague charge of “accepting accommodation with a litigant.”


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