Roads blocked, activists detained in Islamabad ahead of rally


Islamabad : Hundreds of Pakistani opposition members were detained Thursday and main roads leading to the capital blocked to impede a rally in support of suspended chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

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The measures came as a panel of judges met for the seventh hearing of charges of misconduct and abuse of office against Chaudhry, who was suspended by President Pervez Musharraf March 9, reports DPA.

“The government has undertaken every effort to deny us our right of peaceful protest. Four hundred of our workers have been arrested so far,” a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, Yousaf Raza Geelani, told the private Geo news channel.

Police and paramilitary troops blocked all entry points into the city, including the Attock Bridge that links Islamabad with the North West Frontier Province, news reports said.

The area around the Supreme Court building was also sealed off and the media were prevented from approaching.

Despite the blockade, hundreds of demonstrators managed to reach the building and scuffled briefly with police as Chaudhry and his defence lawyers arrived for the hearing.

Similar rallies were also held in other major cities of the country, including Karachi and Lahore, to express solidarity with the judge.

Protests against Chaudhry’s suspension have continued unabated.

On Wednesday, Ahmad Faraz, a poet well-known in the world of Urdu poetry, led a group of writers that joined lawyers and human rights activists in support of Chaudhry, shouting slogans against the government.

Also demonstrating in Lahore was the country’s top human rights activist, Asma Jahangir.

Among others who joined were members of the NGOs and relatives of some of the 190 people described as “missing” or “disappeared” as they have allegedly been picked up by the government’s intelligence agencies for questioning and are being held illegally.

Chaudhry had passed severe strictures against the government for being unable to locate these people a day before he was suspended for alleged misuse of office to promote his son.

Faraz, who had declined a top honour from the government some weeks ago, told reporters that he and other writers believed the government had violated the constitution and now they were against the government, the Daily Times said. He said every conscious person should join the anti-government campaign.

The relatives of missing persons held portraits of their loved ones as they massed outside the Supreme Court building. A former minister for religious minorities, J. Salik, also joined the protests.

Seven lawyers staged a protest walk all the way from Lahore to Islamabad and joined their colleagues in front of the Supreme Court building. The group’s leader Syed Azhar Hussain told Daily Times that the lawyers had walked to Islamabad to show solidarity with the Chaudhry. They had set out from Lahore April 23.