Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Anti-Musharraf rally by lawyers nears capital

AFP , DINA, PAKISTAN

Pakistani protesters beat an effiigy of President Pervez Musharraf with their shoes in Lahore on Thursday. Thousands of Pakistani lawyers and activists gathered for a 'long march" from Lahore to Islamabad to demand the restoration of judges sacked by Musharraf.

PHOTO: AFP

Thousands of Pakistani lawyers and workers neared Islamabad yesterday on the final leg of a "long march" to demand the reinstatement of judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf.

Cheering crowds turned out in towns along the route to welcome the cavalcade of about 400 cars and buses, which left the eastern city of Lahore late on Thursday.

Security officials said 6,000 paramilitary troops and police were deployed in the capital ahead of the arrival of the lawyers, who say they will stage a sit-in outside parliament to press the government to restore the judges.

“Parliament must now respect the sentiments of people, the people have spoken and they want the restoration of the judges,” said Supreme Court Bar Association chief Aitzaz Ahsan, who is leading the march.

“The parliament should not waste time now and restore them. We will continue our long marches until the judges are restored,” said Ahsan, a close aide of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who led the campaign against Musharraf’s attempts to fire him.

Lawyers said they expected to arrive in Islamabad at around 9pm after completing the 276km journey from Lahore, the culmination of a nationwide journey that began on Monday.

Authorities unrolled coils of barbed wire and installed shipping containers to block the parliament and the presidency in Islamabad. Armored personnel vehicles were stationed at several points.

Musharraf sacked Chaudhry and around 60 other judges during a state of emergency on Nov. 3, when it appeared they would overturn his re-election as president the previous month. He also tried to fire him earlier in the year.

The new coalition government led by the parties of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, which defeated Musharraf’s allies in elections in February, has vowed to restore the judges.

But it has been hobbled so far by disagreements over the mechanics, given that bringing back Chaudhry could both lead to a standoff with Musharraf and also threaten an amnesty given to Bhutto’s husband on graft charges.

Sharif pulled his party’s ministers from the Cabinet last month over the issue. He told the protesters in Lahore on Thursday night that he “will not sit peacefully till the reinstatement of the judges.”

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