Rallies for judges’ restoration gather pace in Pakistan

June 10th, 2008 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
Islamabad, June 10 (DPA) The lawyers’ four-day “long march” for the reinstatement of more than 60 judges sacked by Pakistan’s beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf gathered momentum Tuesday as it left the southern city of Sukkur to the central town of Multan. Hundreds of attorneys, political and rights activists gathered despite scorching heat, chanting slogans against Musharraf, burning his effigies and demanding the restoration of judges, before a caravan of dozens of vehicles kicked off the second phase of the long journey.

Lined along the roads and carrying portraits of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, crowds showered flowers and danced in frenzy to drumbeats as the lawyers’ convoy passed through small towns and villages along the route.

The march began Monday in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province, and was expected to gradually swell in size and culminate in a mammoth rally when it reaches its final destination - Parliament House in Islamabad. There a sit-in will be staged Thursday to press for the judiciary’s restoration.

Musharraf removed the independent-minded top adjudicator March 9 last year on charges of misconduct, but he was reinstated by the Supreme Court following protests by lawyers and the then opposition parties.

On November 3 Musharraf declared emergency rule in anticipation of a possible Supreme Court verdict against his controversial re-election a month earlier.

The move triggered renewed protests by lawyers and the public renounced the action on Feb 18 when Musharraf’s political allies were defeated heavily in general elections.

Slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party, which emerged as the largest one in the polls, formed a coalition government and made a commitment to restore the axed judges. The promise was yet to be fulfilled as the coalition partners differed on how the restoration should take place.

The PPP, now led by Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari, proposed a constitutional reform package to restore the judiciary, while the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif wants immediate reinstatement through an executive order.

Opponents of Musharraf have accused Zardari of dilly-dallying on the issue, suspecting him of having a secret deal with the president under the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).

The NRO, introduced by the embattled president last year, provides for the quashing of cases against those who had held public offices. Zardari has recently been acquitted of numerous graft charges under the same law.

Meanwhile, the sacked chief justice left his residence in Islamabad Tuesday to proceed to Multan where he is expected to address the “long march” participants later in the day. Hundreds of lawyers accompanied him to the city’s airport.

Authorities had tightened security in capital Islamabad by blocking the roads leading to the parliament building with huge containers and barbed wire.

Analysts believe the “long march” would increase pressure on the unpopular military dictator-turned-civilian president, who last week defied calls to step down.

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