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Protests over judge persist in Pakistan

As police and lawyers clash in Lahore, there's suspicion that agitators are at work.

March 18, 2007|From Reuters

LAHORE, PAKISTAN — Hundreds of lawyers in business suits hurled stones at police Saturday after officers fired tear gas to disrupt a meeting at Lahore's High Court to protest moves to sack Pakistan's top judge.

The second day of clashes between police and lawyers over the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9 prompted President Pervez Musharraf to say conspirators were stirring up trouble.

The bid to get rid of Chaudhry has outraged lawyers and united disparate opposition parties against Musharraf, who looks set to seek another term late this year.

Chaudhry's suspension fueled suspicions that Musharraf feared the independent-minded judge would oppose any move by him to retain his role as army chief, which constitutionally the president should relinquish this year. Chaudhry has also taken up human rights cases and called on authorities to account for missing people who had allegedly been taken into custody.

Saturday's unrest began when police fired tear gas outside the court and used batons to stop a group of lawyers from getting to the meeting, witnesses said.

Lawyers poured out of the meeting and hurled stones at police, who threw them back. Police chasing protesters ransacked nearby offices.

"It's outrageous. I can't understand why they are doing this," said Syed Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari, secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Assn.

"It seems some invisible hand is trying to create chaos."

Dozens of lawyers and police were hurt and police beat at least two reporters, witnesses said. Peaceful protests were held in several other cites.

Addressing a rally in the eastern city of Pakpatan, Musharraf defended his decision to suspend Chaudhry. Musharraf said he had "no personal differences" with Chaudhry, and had acted against the judge after receiving a case against him from the prime minister.

The hearing against Chaudhry has been adjourned until Wednesday.

On Friday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, detained numerous people and ransacked a television station during protests by lawyers and opposition supporters in the capital, Islamabad.

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