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Police clash with supporters of Pakistan chief justice at protest rally

Police clash with supporters of Pakistan chief justice at protest rally

Police swung batons at stone-throwing demonstrators supporting Pakistan's ousted chief justice Wednesday, thrashing several people during a skirmish that left an Islamist lawmaker with a bleeding head wound.
Opposition activists and lawyers have held regular protests backing Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry since President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended him as head of the Supreme Court on March 9.
The government says the judge abused his office. But critics accuse the government of trying to remove an independent-minded judge ahead of possible legal challenges to Musharraf's continued rule.
Wednesday's clash began when supporters of an alliance of hardline religious parties barged through police lines with a tanker carrying water for about 1,500 demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court.
Footage on Pakistan's Geo television showed baton-wielding police running after the tanker and whacking several people riding on top as well as others walking alongside.
Some of the demonstrators responded by pelting the police with rocks.
Asad Ullah, a white-bearded lawmaker for an alliance of religious opposition parties, was struck on the temple by a projectile just as he was giving an interview to Geo. Ullah recoiled clutching his head, his fingers bloodied from the wound.
It was unclear who threw the projectile.
Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a leader of the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance, said about a dozen people were hurt.
Authorities had stretched barbed wire across some roads leading to the Supreme Court in the capital, Islamabad, to enforce a ban on unauthorized vehicles entering the area.
But they allowed lawyers and opposition activists to reach the court and chant slogans supporting Chaudhry as he arrived for the latest hearing in his case. Similar rallies were held in other cities, including Lahore and Karachi.
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the Pakistan Peoples Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said police had rounded up dozens of its supporters near Islamabad to prevent them from joining the rally.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment. Authorities have acknowledged detaining activists ahead of earlier protests, saying they were a threat to law and order.
Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and pledged to restore democracy, is expected to seek election to a new term as president from the current federal and provincial assemblies, which were elected in 2002.
However, the opposition says the 2002 polls were fixed, and insists that only lawmakers chosen in parliamentary elections due at the end of 2007 should have the right to elect the next head of state.
The opposition also says Musharraf must relinquish his post as army chief.