Pakistan’s suspended judge leads rally despite ban


Islamabad : Hundreds of people in Pakistan Saturday defied government orders prohibiting assembly of more than five people to welcome suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

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Chaudhry, in the eye of a storm since he was suspended on March 9, travelled to the military garrison town of Abbotabad 60 km from here to address lawyers.

Slogans like "Go Musharraf Go" greeted him as his motorcade move through the ancient Taxila town.

While Chaudhry refrained from speaking during the journey, Ali Ahmed Kurd, one of the lawyers defending him in the Supreme Court speaking at the rally said: "The constitution gives the people of Pakistan the right to rule the country. We will no longer allow any army general to rule."

The rally is in keeping with Chaudhry's defiance of the government, even as the apex court is hearing his petition. Media reports have said each rally has gathered more and more support.

However, the live television coverage was missing today.

There were no live broadcasts of Chaudhry's journey to Abbottabad as the government has stipulated that any such coverage would require prior official permission.

Media appeared to tone down its presence after a warning from the government earlier this week that it would not tolerate any coverage that is disparaging, especially of the army.

Since President Pervez Musharraf, who is also the Army Chief, has refused to shed his uniform as demanded of him by the opposition parties, the role of the armed forces has come in for sharp criticism at protest rallies.

Musharraf resented anti-army remarks made at a seminar that Chaudhry addressed, in the precincts of the Supreme Court saying that it was the "duty" of every Pakistani to defend the armed forces.

Musharraf has said that he had allowed "full freedom" to the media, facilitating the growth of private TV channels. But the media has taken up the opposition causes, projected on the negative image of the country and suppressed or played down the government's many achievements.

If the media was at a low-key at Abbottabad, the government too retained a low profile, ostensibly so as not to provoke defiance.

Despite the two-month ban on gatherings of more than five people, police didn't stop Chaudhry's supporters, who first gathered outside his home in an upscale neighborhood of Islamabad, then marched down a main road with him to Abbotabad.