Pakistani lawyers’ Long March heads toward conclusion

June 13th, 2008 - 4:26 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, June 13 (IANS) Hundreds of Pakistani lawyers participating in a Long March to demand restoration of the judges President Pervez Musharraf had sacked after declaring an emergency last November have begun arriving here, even as the authorities have cordoned off the Constitutional Avenue where they are to stage a rally. “This has been done for security reasons and not to stop the participants of the rally,” said a senior official of the interior ministry.

The Islamabad administration has erected walk-throughs at various points leading to the venue and everyone going through is being thoroughly checked by security personnel.

A huge stage has also been set up from where ousted Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is a part of the ruling coalition, are expected to address the rally.

Makeshift washrooms have been erected in the greenbelt close to the rally venue, while numerous stalls offering refreshments to the rallyists have been set up by various political and social organizations.

PML-N leaders from Islamabad and the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi have also arranged food for the lawyers and members of civil society who are travelling with the cavalcade.

“We are expecting more than 500,000 people and it will be a peaceful rally,” leader of lawyers’ movement Aitzaz Ahsan said.

Ahsan said the Long March would create history in Pakistan and change the face of the judiciary.

“Only an independent judiciary can ensure transparency and good governance,” Ahsan told IANS.

“This will prove to be more successful than Mao’s Long March,” lawyer Shahid Abbasi said.

The lawyers are demanding restoration of more than 60 Supreme Court and High Court judges Musharraf sacked after they refused to take a fresh oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) imposed along with the emergency.

There is speculation that the government was ready to give in to their demand - but also retain the existing Supreme Court judges.

This follows a statement by Finance Minister Naveed Qamar during his budget speech Wednesday that he proposed to increase the number of Supreme Court judges from 16 to 29.

In Islamabad, lawyers wearing black coats were seen sitting under trees and near the rally venue, waiting for their colleagues to arrive.

“This black coat gives me a soothing effect,” said Rashid Khan, a lawyer from Mardan in the North West Frontier Province. He was part of a group of 80 lawyers and about 100 members of civil society organizations and students who have come here for the rally.

A large number of women activists were also seen at the rally venue.

“How can we stay away from this historic moment?” asked Shahzline, who, along with 50 women lawyers and activists, has come here from Peshawar.

The Long March began from Karachi and Quetta on Tuesday and came together in the Sindh city of Sukkur, from where, after an overnight stay, it headed toward Islamabad. The rallyists rested in Multan and then spent a night in Lahore, where Sharif addressed them Thursday and assured them of his full cooperation.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik Insaaf and the rightwing Jamaat-e-Islami are also in the forefront in supporting the lawyers movement.

Rawalpindi, home to the Pakistan armed forces’ General Headquarters, also wore a festive look with huge portraits of Chaudhry, Sharif and Imran Khan.

Political parties and many social organizations have set up welcome camps where national songs were blaring out. Most of these songs are of the mid-1960s and early 1970s and were played publicly when Pakistan fought two wars with India.

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