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Pakistani lawyers renew protest rallies against removal of judge

By DPA

Islamabad : Thousands of Pakistani lawyers on Thursday again boycotted court proceedings across the country and held rallies against the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry by President Pervez Musharraf over misuse of office accusations.

"Today's boycott is part of our continuing protest against the removal of the chief justice. We shall continue the movement until the mala fide charges against him are withdrawn," said Muneer Malik, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

Describing Chaudhry's removal on March 9 as an assault on the judiciary, the legal fraternity staged repeated demonstrations in recent weeks with the support of opposition parties in a major test of Musharraf's authority.

Thousands of lawyers, opposition workers and rights activists on Thursday chanted slogans against Musharraf as they marched through the central city of Lahore.

Thousands more refused to represent their clients in the courts in other cities and towns.

The growing political movement around the judge's suspension turned violent May 12 as pro-government activists clashed with opposition workers in the southern city of Karachi, leaving more than 40 people dead.

Both sides blamed the other for the disturbances, which saw the use of firearms for the first time since the confrontation began.

Musharraf is also under pressure from members of his government and the ruling party to end the case against Chaudhry, while foreign governments showed alarm at the resultant unrest in an election year.

The army general will seek a further five-year term from the current parliament this autumn.

During a visit to Islamabad Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed concern at the "recent events in Karachi and the dismissal of a judge in Pakistan" after talks with his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri.

Many Pakistanis believe Musharraf removed the judge to prevent any legal attempt to block his re-election from the existing parliament.

The president says he took the decision in accordance with the country's constitution and has blamed the tragic events on the politicization of what he stresses is a purely judicial matter.