Pakistan lawyers warn of storm of protest over judge

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan Mon Nov 3, 2008 7:58pm IST

Lawyers and supporters of political parties attend a protest rally on the first anniversary of the imposition of emergency rule by then president Pervez Musharraf in Karachi, November 3, 2008. REUTERS/Athar Hussain

Lawyers and supporters of political parties attend a protest rally on the first anniversary of the imposition of emergency rule by then president Pervez Musharraf in Karachi, November 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Athar Hussain

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RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani lawyers campaigning for the the restoration of a deposed chief justice vented their anger on Monday against President Asif Ali Zardari and warned of a storm of protest if their demands are ignored.

Thousands of lawyers across the country held protests on Monday, the first anniversary of the imposition of a six-week stint of emergency rule by then president Pervez Musharraf.

After declaring a state of emergency, Musharraf purged the judiciary of the independent-minded chief justice, Iftikar Chaudhry, and other judges who Musharraf saw as a threat to his plans to hold on to power.

Musharraf's resignation in August did not end controversy over Chaudhry, and the failure of the government led by Zardari's party to reinstate Chaudhry led to a split in the coalition.

Zardari is the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in December.

About 3,000 lawyers, political party workers and rights activists, many chanting "Go Zardari, go" gathered in the city of Rawalpindi to mark the anniversary of Musharraf's emergency with a fresh call for Chaudhry to be reinstated.

"Don't compel us to knock on the doors again," firebrand lawyers' leader Ali Ahmed Kurd told the rally.

"We want the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in the country and if that doesn't happen, the power of 100,000 lawyers and members of civil society will emerge like a storm," Kurd said.

Analysts say Zardari, who was elected president in September, does not want Chaudhry to be reinstated as the country's top judge.

Zardari fears Chaudhry might reopen legal challenges to an amnesty from graft charges Musharraf granted Bhutto, Zardari and other senior officials in their party last year as part of a proposed power-sharing deal, analysts say.

Chaudhry also spoke to the rally, recounting the events that led to his ouster.

Zardari's refusal to restore Chaudhry led to the country's second biggest party, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, quitting the coalition, prompting fears of a return to the fractious politics of the 1990s.

Although that has not happened, a new round of protests over the judge will raise concern for the government as it struggles with a balance-of-payments crisis and escalating militant violence.

Musharraf's initial attempt to sack Chaudhry in March last year triggered a country-wide protest campaign that dogged Musharraf until his resignation under threat of impeachment.

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