Pakistani lawyer says Musharraf must go

LAHORE, Pakistan Fri Feb 1, 2008 4:12pm IST

Pakistan's opposition lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan (L) is greeted by lawyers and civil rights activists after his temporary release from detention in Lahore December 20, 2007. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

Pakistan's opposition lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan (L) is greeted by lawyers and civil rights activists after his temporary release from detention in Lahore December 20, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Mohsin Raza

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LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani lawyer who has spearheaded opposition to President Pervez Musharraf has come out of three months of detention as defiant as ever and insisting the president step down.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a former member of parliament and cabinet minister under assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was detained under emergency powers that Musharraf invoked on Nov. 3.

He was released late on Thursday and on Friday went to meet hundreds of his lawyer supporters chanting "Go, Musharraf go!" at the Hight Court in the eastern city of Lahore.

"Detention cannot dampen our spirits. We can't overlook what's going on in the country," Ahsan told the lawyers.

"I tell Musharraf he should go and the army should go back to barracks," he said.

Musharraf, the former army chief who took power in a 1999 coup, outraged the judiciary and sparked an opposition campaign against him when he tried to dismiss the then Supreme Court chief justice last March.

Ahsan acted as chief counsel for the judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was purged when Musharraf declared emergency rule, along with dozens of other judges seen as hostile to Musharraf's re-election in October while still army chief.

Musharraf has dismissed opposition calls for Chaudhry to be reinstated saying he was guilty of wrongdoing.

But Ahsan said Chaudhry had to get his job back.

"I want to assure the nation that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will be reinstated," he said.

Ahsan was held at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi for nearly three weeks before being transferred to house arrest in Lahore.

Chaudhry and several other judges and lawyers are still under house arrest.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif welcomed Ahsan's release and said his party would not give up its campaign for the restoration of the deposed judges.

"The restoration of judges is the first point of our party's manifesto," Sharif told a meeting of lawyers in the city of Rawalpindi.

Sharif was allowed back to Pakistan in November to lead his party in a general election that was postponed until Feb. 18 after Bhutto was assassinated in late December.

The elections are for a lower house of parliament, which will produce a new prime minister and government to rule in cooperation with Musharraf, and assemblies in Pakistan's four provinces.

The polls are meant to complete a transition to civilian rule and could result in fresh challenges to Musharraf if the party that backs him fares poorly, which appears likely.

Sharif said all of his party's candidates would gather on Feb. 6 to swear an oath that if elected, they would focus their efforts on getting the purged judges restored.

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