Pakistani lawyers’ ‘Long March’ nears Islamabad (Lead)

June 13th, 2008 - 10:48 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, June 13 (IANS) Thousands of lawyers from across Pakistan, participating in a ‘Long March’ to demand restoration of the judges President Musharraf had sacked after declaring emergency last November, were inching towards Parliament House here Friday. The lawyers are set to stage a rally at Constitutional Avenue here and ousted Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif are expected to address. The rally venue, however, has been cordoned off by authorities.

“This has been done for security reasons and not to stop the participants of the rally,” an interior ministry official said.

The lawyers, while on their way, stopped at Rawalpindi and raised slogans against Musharraf.

“Go Musharraf, go,” they shouted on a road close to the Army House, declared by Musharraf as his camp office. Though he resigned as army chief last December, the president continues to stay in the official residence of the army chief.

There was heavy security around Army House, with around 3,000 army personnel on guard as lawyers reached the city on the last leg of their ‘Long March’.

“We are peaceful people and will force Musharraf to leave without any violence,” lawyers’ leader Aitzaz Ahsan told the gathering over a public address system.

According to independent estimates, over 50,000 lawyers, students, members of the civil society and political activists are moving towards the capital from Rawalpindi.

Rawalpindi, home to the Pakistan armed forces’ General Headquarters, wore a festive look with huge portraits of Chaudhry, Sharif and Tehrik-e-Insaaf leader Imran Khan. Political parties and many social organizations have set up welcome camps from where national songs were blaring out on loudspeakers. Most of these songs are of the mid-1960s and early 1970s and were played publicly when Pakistan fought two wars with India.

People lined roads as the lawyers’ rally passed by and flower petals were showered on the rallyists from rooftops of houses and commercial buildings.

Meanwhile, lawyers from several other parts of the country reached the Constitutional Avenue for the rally, for which a huge stage has been set up. Makeshift washrooms have been erected in the green belt close to the venue and numerous stalls offering refreshments to the rallyists have also 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.

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 earlier Friday.

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

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

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 organisations 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 party and the rightwing Jamaat-e-Islami are also in the forefront in supporting the lawyers movement.

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