Lawyers in Pakistan protest suspension of top judge
Lawyers boycotted court proceedings, clashed with riot police and burned an image of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf Monday in a countrywide protest against the ouster of the country's top judge.
The country's main opposition party also decried the removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, in a high-profile test of judicial independence in military-dominated Pakistan.
Chaudhry, who has a reputation for cracking down on government misdeeds and human rights abuses, was suspended by Musharraf on Friday. The government said Musharraf received complaints against Chaudhry alleging that he had abused his authority, but declined to provide details.
Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said the Supreme Judicial Council — a panel of top judges — would hear the case against Chaudhry at a closed hearing on Tuesday, despite reported calls from the suspended judge for the proceeding to be open to the public.
He also denied reports that the chief justice was under house arrest.
However, police posted outside Chaudhry's official residence in the capital, Islamabad, have allowed only a few people to enter and riot police armed with batons and shields were posted around the area.
On Monday, attorneys boycotted courts in various cities to protest.
'Free the chief justice'
At the Supreme Court in Islamabad, a group of lawyers chanted "Shame, shame, shame" outside a courtroom where acting chief judge Javed Iqbal was to hear a case but was forced to adjourn the proceedings because no counsel for the petitioners appeared.
Two dozen other lawyers outside the building shouted "Long live Iftikhar Chaudhry" and "Free the chief justice."
In the eastern city of Lahore, police stopped hundreds of lawyers from marching toward the provincial assembly, sparking a clash in which protesters pelted police with bricks and stones and officers beat them back with batons, police said.
About 20 lawyers were injured in the scuffle, said Imtiaz Habib, a police officer in Lahore. Eight protesters were detained temporarily but were not formally charged, Habib said.
The lawyers later staged a sit-down protest in front of the provincial high court.
In Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, hundreds more lawyers staged a similar sit-down protest in a street near the main court complex, chanting "Death to Musharraf" and burning a portrait of the military president.
About 200 riot police were posted nearby until the protesters dispersed peacefully.
Chaudhry has made a name for himself as an independent-minded judge.
In one ongoing case, he has pressed the government hard to provide information on the whereabouts of dozens of people said by relatives to be secretly held by Pakistani intelligence agencies.
Last year, he crossed the government by blocking plans to privatize a huge state-run steel company.
Ali Ahmed Kurd, deputy chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, the country's main lawyers' group, said Sunday that the government's charges against Chaudhry undermined the judiciary and were based on "ill-intention and political motives" — something the government denies.
Opposition parties also called foul.
"Many people suspect that the government was uncomfortable with some of the chief justice's recent verdicts," said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the main opposition Pakistan People's Party.
Pakistani politicians regularly accuse opponents of ballot-rigging and take their complaints to the courts.