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Pakistan lawyers blast Musharraf as they launch protests aimed at restoring judges

Pakistan lawyers blast Musharraf as they launch protests aimed at restoring judges

Lawyers burned an effigy of President Pervez Musharraf on Monday, calling for his departure and demanding the return of judges he fired _ and launching planned protests that could undermine Pakistan's shaky new coalition government.
The so-called "Long March" protest initiative was heralded by gatherings in major Pakistani cities and was expected to culminate later this week with a rally and sit-in at the capital, Islamabad.
Thousands of activists were expected to take part in the lawyer-led demonstrations.
Lawyers spearheaded opposition to Musharraf's rule last year and their movement has intensified pressure on the U.S.-allied leader to resign.
But their protests have also deepened rifts between the new civilian administration's two main parties, both of which won February elections on anti-Musharraf platforms.
The protests came as the two-month-old government faced a slew of other tests including an ailing economy and Islamic militancy _ the latter a major concern of the United States.
The main ruling Pakistan People's Party of Asif Ali Zardari, and its largest partner, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, have failed to resolve differences over how to reinstate the judges.
Sharif has already pulled his ministers from the Cabinet, and his party was involved in the protests. Sharif said he planned to return to Pakistan from London on Tuesday to take part.
On Monday in Pakistan's largest city and commercial center, Karachi, about 4,000 political activists, including Sharif supporters, chanted "Go, Musharraf, Go!" and "Musharraf is an American dog!"
In the central city of Multan, lawyers hung a large effigy of Musharraf, kicked it, beat it with sticks, and set it ablaze.
Multan is the first main destination for activists now traveling from various parts of the country; from there, the key segment of the Long March _ much of which was likely to involve cars and buses _ was expected to start Tuesday and eventually end in Islamabad.
In the eastern city of Lahore, a convoy of about 60 vehicles carrying lawyers and activists slowly toured the city to rally support among citizens. "We are out to save the judiciary _ come with us!" participants chanted, handing out pamphlets.
Some shopkeepers showered them with rose petals.
Musharraf ousted dozens of judges in November during a burst of emergency rule imposed as he faced legal challenges to staying on as president. Since winning the elections, Zardari's and Sharif's parties have bickered over the mechanics of restoring the judges. The dispute led Sharif to pull his ministers from the Cabinet.
Sharif has argued that the judges' restoration should be simple _ essentially done through an executive order from the prime minister. Zardari, however, has wanted to link the judges' return to a major package of constitutional reforms that not only would affect the judiciary but also would weaken the presidency.
The parties also appeared at odds over how to deal with Musharraf. Sharif is calling loudly for the president to be ousted tried for treason, but Zardari appears wary of a confrontation with Musharraf, who says he has no plan to resign.
In a news conference in London on Monday, Sharif said his party remained a part of the coalition because it did not want to strengthen Musharraf.
"But at the same time we are also pressing upon Mr. Zardari and the People's Party that it is very important that the judges are reinstated," said Sharif, who also charged that the "other party hasn't honored its commitment."
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Zardari's party, said it was committed to restoring the judges through the parliament, not marches.
"When we were not in the government we also chose the path of demonstrations and processions and educated about the matter and brought it to a high pitch," Babar said. "Now that we are in the government our demonstrations, our processions will be meaningless. We have to do it ourselves through the parliament."
Various protest groups were expected to reach Islamabad by Thursday or Friday. They planned to stage a sit-in in front of the parliament house "until all judges are restored through an executive order," said Sardar Ismatullah, a leading lawyer in the movement.
Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said Monday that the government would not try to stop the demonstrators from marching on Islamabad.
"This is the right of people to demonstrate. As long as they are peaceful, we will be peaceful, and we are assured by them that they will be peaceful," said Malik, a Zardari ally.
Critics say the furor over the president _ who now wields little authority _ and the judges has distracted the government from critical issues such as power outages and high inflation.
The government also faces criticism from the United States for pursuing peace deals with militants in its border regions, agreements American officials worry will give extremists a chance to regroup and intensify attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.
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Associated Press Writers Raphael G. Satter in London; Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan; Khalid Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan; and Zarar Khan, Asif Shahzad and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-19 08:33 GMT+08:00