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Panel hearing case of suspended Pakistani judge dissolved


Islamabad : Pakistan's judicial crisis deepened Monday as a 14-member panel of judges that was due to hear petitions related to the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was dissolved before it started proceedings.

This was the third panel of judges to be suspended during hearings of the case against the judge, who President Pervez Musharraf removed on March 9 for alleged abuse of office.

"One of the 14 judges of the panel, Justice Falak Sher, refused to participate in the proceedings," Chaudhry's defence counsel Tariq Mehmud said.

The broader panel, called a full court, was due to start hearing several petitions. Earlier the Supreme Court challenged the authority of a five-member body of judges known as the Supreme Judicial Council that was formed to adjudicate in the controversial case against Chaudhry.

According to Mehmud, Sher told the panel that he had previously challenged Chaudhry's appointment as chief justice and that his participation in hearings of the case against the judge would be inappropriate.

Acting Chief Justice Rana Bhagwandas later reconstituted the panel with thirteen judges, which was to start working from Tuesday.

Chaudhry's suspension sparked countrywide protests by thousands of lawyers and opposition parties.

The standoff with state authorities escalated violently at the weekend as at least 41 people died and over 150 were injured during a visit by the judge to the southern city of Karachi to address the legal fraternity.

Chaudhry was unable to leave the airport and later returned to Islamabad.

The decision to suspend the judge is seen by many as a consequence of earlier rulings he made against the government. Commentators also saw his removal as a possible attempt to prevent any legal challenge to Musharraf's bid for re-election later in the year.