Islamabad : Pakistan's suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has a message for President General Pervez Musharraf: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely".
Launching a veiled attack on Musharraf Saturday evening from his home turf – he was addressing a seminar in the auditorium of the Supreme Court, he said that people's desire for an independent judiciary could not be suppressed.
The stage for the swipe at Musharraf was set by the subject of the seminar: "Separation of Power and Independence of Judiciary."
"The courts must be independent," Justice Chaudhry said in his 10-minute address that was covered 'live' by private television Geo.
"Courts should remain free from the pressure of the executive."
He was speaking publicly in the apex court for the first time since Musharraf suspended him on March 9 accusing him of misusing his office to promote his son.
"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," Justice Chaudhry said.
Pakistan has since witnessed a nationwide agitation joined in by lawyers, the media and the opposition parties waiting to take on Musharraf in a year when he has promised general elections.
As Chaudhry arrived at the Supreme Court, over 8,000 lawyers welcomed him with anti-Musharraf slogans, Daily Times reported Sunday.
Thousands of torch-bearing lawyers, opposition activists and civil society representatives accorded Chaudhry "a rousing welcome", said The News.
Chaudhry said judicial independence was central to ensuring a society based on justice, equality, liberty, protection of human rights and constitutional rule. He said an independent judiciary "is a strong bulwark against abuse of power and tyrannical rule".
Chaudhry said it was a difficult task to accomplish, adding that he was "thankful for the cooperation that I received from my brother judges and members of the bar".
A string of speakers at the seminar bitterly condemned the military rule and said Justice Chaudhry's principled stand heralded a new era based on supremacy of the constitution and law.
They paid tribute to him for refusing to step down despite intense pressure allegedly exerted by General Musharraf and his junta.
"The bloodshed in Karachi will not go to waste. Revolution will come," several people in the crowd shouted, punching the air with their fists. "Go, Musharraf, go," chanted others.
Opposition leaders held their own gathering outside the Supreme Court.
Khawaja Asif, an opposition leader from exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, told reporters that Musharraf was "like a falling wall" and that the entire nation wants Chaudhry restored to his position.
Pakistan People's Party secretary-general Raja Pervez Ashraf said that all political parties were united for freedom of judiciary and they want democracy in the country.