Thousands rally against Musharraf in fresh protests


Islamabad : Thousands of lawyers and opposition activists in Pakistan Thursday joined fresh countrywide protests against the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry by President Pervez Musharraf in March over alleged misconduct.

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Despite large-scale arrests of opposition workers in the central province of Punjab recently, a large crowd rallied in the provincial capital Lahore, waving black flags and chanting slogans like "Go Musharraf go" and "Reinstate the chief justice."

"Our struggle is aimed at protecting country's constitutional institutions. We will continue our protest until Musharraf quits," the Lahore High Court Bar Association president, Muhammad Ahsan Bhoon, told the rally.

In the southern city of Karachi, lawyers boycotted court proceedings and marched down to the city's press club.

They condemned new restrictive measures against the media and demanded the resignation of the president, who is facing the biggest challenge to his authority since he took power in a military coup in 1999.

Similar demonstrations were also held in several cities across the country, intensifying the mass political movement against Musharraf.

Opposition parties view Chaudhry's removal as an attempt to prevent any legal challenge to Musharraf's plan to win re-election by the incumbent parliament in October.

The demonstrations came as US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was holding talks with the government officials as well as opposition leaders in Pakistan to ensure transparency in forthcoming general elections to be held early next year.

"Free and fair elections are impossible under the present setup," opposition leader in the provincial assembly of Balochistan, Kachkol Ali, told Boucher Thursday in Quetta.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties and lawyers' organizations have given a call for a transport strike in the port city of Karachi to protest the killings of more than 40 people in clashes between the supporters of Musharraf and Chaudhry on May 12.

President Musharraf is responsible for the violence, accused Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician and opposition leader Imran Khan in BBC's Hard-Talk programme on Wednesday.