Hundreds rally against suspension of Pakistan's top judge
Apr 13, 2007 - 3:20:28 PM

Islamabad, April 13 - Scores of lawyers and opposition political activists Friday staged protests in Islamabad against the removal of Pakistan's top judge over abuse-of-office allegations.

Fervent supporters of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry assembled outside the Supreme Court building where a five-member panel of senior judges heard arguments by Chaudhry's counsels over the demands for an open trial.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on March 9 asked the Supreme Judicial Council to adjudicate on the charges of 'misconduct and misuse of authority' against Chaudhry, sparking countrywide protests by the lawyers' fraternity and opposition parties.

Strict security measures were put in place in the capital city where a large number of riot police and paramilitary troops manned cordons set up on roads leading to the court building.

However, the law enforcers avoided coming in contact with the demonstrators, who chanted anti-Musharraf slogans and called for withdrawal of the presidential reference against Chaudhry.

Violence erupted during similar protests last month when riot police and angry activists pelted each other with stones. Dozens of people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and used tear gas and batons to control the mob.

Meanwhile, peaceful protests and rallies were also staged on Friday in other cities as lawyers boycotted the courts across the country.

Opposition politicians claim that Musharraf suspended the top judge to extend his rule and that of the Pakistan Muslim League party, which says it will re-elect the military president for another five years.

The presidential reference against Chaudhry accuses the suspended judge of engineering the appointment of his son, a doctor, to a senior post in the police service. He also faces allegations of issuing conflicting verbal and written court orders and unauthorized use of state transport.

Chaudhry, 58, gained public appreciation for issuing a number of controversial verdicts against the government, including one that forced the administration to halt the privatisation of a steel-manufacturing plant in the port city of Karachi.

His action in taking up a petition relating to missing people, who were allegedly abducted by security agencies, was widely supported but it also gave rise to rumours about possible adverse action by the government.

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