Pakistani judge hearing adjourned
May 2, 2007 - 8:03:00 PM

Islamabad, May 2 - The case against Pakistan's suspended top judge was Wednesday adjourned at the sixth hearing amid tense scenes outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad.

As police clashed briefly with protesters on the streets, a five- member panel of judges said it would convene again Thursday to hear the presidential reference for abuse of office against the non-functional Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The panel dismissed the request of the defence counsel that the proceedings against Chaudhry should be halted as its authority had already been challenged in the Supreme Court.

Three people were injured in a police baton charge against opposition supporters, including parliamentarian Asadullah Khan of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance of religious parties, who was hit in the head by a stone.

President Pervez Musharraf's March 9 decision to remove Chaudhry from his duties sparked successive rallies and disturbances and has posed a growing challenge to the military leader's authority.

Police again sealed off the area around the court where lawyers and opposition groups gathered in protest during previous hearings of the case, which has emerged as a rallying cause for various factions opposed to Musharraf.

'We are not holding protests for one person but for the independence of the judiciary,' former cricket star and current parliamentarian Imran Khan said.

Some 2,000 people were allowed through on foot but all vehicles were barred from approaching the court, which is located in the city centre near government and parliament buildings.

The clash ensued when police refused to let past a tractor carrying water for the demonstrators. Opposition leaders were able to calm the crowd before tensions escalated further.

Cities in Pakistan have been on heightened alert since a suicide bomber killed himself and 28 people at a political rally in the town of Charsadda Friday. Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao narrowly survived the attack carried out by tribal militants.

Police check posts were also established on roads leading to Islamabad from outlying towns and convoys of lawyers and political workers were being stopped.

Relatives of 36 victims of 'forced disappearances' were also among Wednesday's crowd and held pictures of missing persons. One placard read 'I have not seen my dad for two years.'

Prior to his suspension, Chaudhry had taken up the cases and instructed security agencies to produce dozens of missing people.

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