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Pakistan protests over fired judges

Thousands, including lawyers, demand the ouster of Musharraf.

June 14, 2008|From the Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Tens of thousands of protesters swarmed into Pakistan's capital for a raucous rally led by lawyers demanding the reinstatement of judges and the ouster of President Pervez Musharraf.

The gathering, which began Friday amid sweltering heat and continued until around dawn today, threatened to widen a rift within the governing coalition. Some analysts said it could prod the partners to find a way to restore the justices and hasten the exit of the unpopular U.S.-backed president.

After about 30 hours on the road, senior lawyers, joined by politicians, took to a stage atop shipping containers a few hundred yards from Pakistan's parliament, bathed in floodlights. They addressed a crowd of about 20,000 people.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party is in the ruling coalition, demanded that Musharraf be put on trial and "held accountable" for his 8 1/2 years in power.

"Listen, Pervez Musharraf! The nation has given its verdict against you. Listen, Musharraf, to what the nation is saying and what the nation is demanding!" Sharif said, drawing a response of "Hang Musharraf!" from the crowd.

The biggest contingent came Thursday evening from the eastern city of Lahore in a convoy of hundreds of vehicles carrying flag-waving political activists and black-suited lawyers on the final leg of a procession that began early in the week.

The rally marked the return to the political center stage of lawyers, whose protests undermined Musharraf's grip on power last year. They rubbed shoulders with supporters of hard-line Islamic parties who boycotted the February elections that swept Musharraf's supporters out of power.

But in a worrying sign for the new government, which is led by the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the protest included its key partner -- Sharif's party.

Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted in a military coup in 1999, is now pressing for the judges' return.

Bhutto's widower and political successor, Asif Ali Zardari, has stalled on taking that step despite promising to do so.

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