Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Protesters call for Musharraf to step down


More than 1,000 protesters rallied outside Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday to call for the ousting of President Pervez Musharraf over his dismissal of the country's top judge, witnesses said.

Lawyers, Islamists and the parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif staged fresh rallies to coincide with the latest legal hearing into charges against suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Chanting "Go Musharraf, go" and "The US has a pet dog, it wears a uniform" -- a reference to the military ruler's anti-terror alliance with Washington -- opposition supporters jostled with riot police at the court in Islamabad.

But the lawyers, who have tried to appear politically neutral throughout the crisis, seized and stripped a man wearing a lawyers' outfit of a black suit who began shouting anti-Musharraf slogans, reporters said.

They accused the president of being a government agent trying to foment unrest.

Military ruler Musharraf has faced the most serious political ruction of his eight years in power since abruptly removing Chaudhry on March 9, saying amid other claims that the son of the judge received unfair promotions.

The judge's jeep was mobbed by supporters as he arrived at the court building for the hearing by the Supreme Judicial Council, a panel of Pakistan's top judges. Riot police kept the supporters outside the gates of the court.

Chaudhry's main lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, who drove the vehicle, repeated his call for the proceedings to be open.

"It should be a public trial," he said, adding that the chief justice also disputed the membership of the panel.

Opposition parties said police had arrested hundreds of their supporters overnight, but the chief of Pakistan's main coalition of Islamist parties, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, defied a house arrest order to turn up. He was backed by bearded supporters waving flags and bamboo canes.

"We have had reports of hundreds of arrests overnight," spokesman for Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League Siddiqul Farooq said. "Most of our leaders have gone underground and they will emerge from different hideouts."

Senior leaders of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party also went into hiding and four party workers had been seized overnight from Rawalpindi, spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.

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