Pakistan: Thousands of lawyers hold protest rallies

Karachi, 31 Jan. (AKI) -Thousands of lawyers were holding rallies across Pakistan on Thursday to protest against the removal of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges late last year.

Security was tightened and riot police were deployed in Karachi and other major cities as protesters shouted slogans like "Death to Dictatorship" and "Musharraf must go".

"The lawyers' community is observing a complete boycott of court proceedings and demonstrations are being held in every city and town of the country to express solidarity with the chief justice," said Athar Minallah, a senior leader of Islamabad Bar Association.

"We are demanding the restoration of 60 unconstitutionally removed senior judges, an end to the dictatorship of Musharraf and the release of all detained justices and lawyers," he said.

Chaudhry was sacked with dozens of his colleagues on November 3 when President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. As many as 2,500 lawyers were imprisoned at the time.

Opponents argued that the move was aimed at preventing the Supreme Court from ruling against Musharraf's candidacy for the presidential vote for his second five-year term.

After dumping the high court justice, the president selected his own hand-picked judges before resigning as military chief and lifting emergency rule.

But several senior judges and dozens of lawyers remain under house arrest.

Police were reported to have cordoned off the area around the High Court building in Karachi to prevent the lawyers from gathering outside.

Human rights activists and civil society representatives also joined the lawyers in a similar protest in Lahore, the capital of eastern Punjab province.

Lawyers have also gathered outside the district courts in Lahore and smaller protests were taking place in Peshawar and Quetta.

The demonstrations came days after Musharraf repeatedly accused Chaudhry of being "inept and corrupt" during his eight-day European visit last week.

The deposed judge rejected the allegations in an open letter sent to several European leaders on Wednesday, saying 60 senior judges were dismissed at the whim of one person.

"I have failed to discover any such event in medieval times under any emperor, king or sultan or even when a dictator has had full military sway over any country in more recent times," he wrote.

Lawyers of the Islamabad and Rawalpindi Bar Association were planning to march to Chaudhry's residence late on Thursday.

Pakistan is scheduled to vote in parliamentary elections on 18 February.


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