Lawyers fight riot police in protest against Musharraf
Lawyers in Pakistan fought riot police and burnt pictures of President Pervez Musharraf yesterday as a row over his attempts to have the country's most senior judge sacked threatened to run out of control.

Several lawyers were seen bleeding from the head after police charged them during clashes in Lahore. Dressed in business suits, the lawyers tried to stage a march outside the High Court building, only to be attacked by baton-wielding police. Some of the lawyers responded by throwing stones at police. At least 25 people were injured, including 10 police officers.

Across the country, lawyers turned up to court carrying black flags and refusing to take any part in proceedings to protest against President Musharraf's order suspending Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary for unspecified "misconduct and misuse of authority".

In Islamabad, there was a scuffle when police forcibly prevented opposition party leaders from visiting Mr Chaudhary at his house. The authorities have denied he is under house arrest - but his house is surrounded and police are strictly controlling who is allowed in or out.

President Musharraf moved against the judge on Friday, suspending him from office and ordering a hearing into his alleged misconduct. But the government has refused to give any details of the alleged wrongdoing, and it is widely suspected in Pakistan that he is being targeted because he dared to take on President Musharraf's regime.

In particular, Mr Chaudhary was challenging the government in a case over the disappearances of hundreds of people, many of them human rights activists. Their relatives contend they are being secretly held by Pakistani intelligence, and the Chief Justice was demanding the government provide information on their whereabouts. He also crossed the government last year when he blocked the privatisation of a state-run steel company.

Many analysts believe the move against Mr Chaudhary is a warning shot to the judiciary before elections scheduled for later this year. President Musharraf's desire for elections to give his rule a veneer of respectability brings its own challenges. This year, he is seeking re-election in a vote by parliament, and he does not want any developments that could embolden parliament to defy him.

But from the protests yesterday, it appears he may have miscalculated. Far from cowing Mr Chaudhary, he appears to have turned him into a popular hero. Crowds in Karachi yesterday were shouting "Death to Musharraf" and burning pictures of him. In Peshawar, protesters carried placards reading "Go Musharraf go". Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari, secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said: "The entire lawyer community is out protesting and giving a unanimous message that we're against President Musharraf's action; we condemn it."
Posted by: ryuge 2007-03-13