Alexa

Sharif's party pledges to support lawyers' protests in Pakistan

Sharif's party pledges to support lawyers' protests in Pakistan

Leaders of a key party in Pakistan's ruling coalition pledged Tuesday to support lawyer-led protest marches this week demanding the reinstatement of judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf.
Security was beefed up in the capital, Islamabad, where the processions are expected to culminate with a rally and sit-in in front of Parliament. Large shipping containers blocked the road leading to the legislature.
The so-called "Long March" could intensify pressure on Musharraf to resign.
But the demonstrations also are heightening tension between ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party and its senior coalition partner, the party of Asif Ali Zardari. Sharif was to fly back to Pakistan from London on Tuesday to join the protests.
Both parties say they want to reinstate dozens of judges fired by the U.S.-backed president last year to avoid legal challenges to his rule, but they have disputed the mechanics. Sharif says the judges should be restored quickly via an executive order from the prime minister, but Zardari wants to link their return to a package of constitutional changes.
The parties also appear to differ on how to approach common archrival Musharraf, who has said he will not step down. Sharif wants him impeached and put on trial for treason. Zardari has taken a softer tone.
The shaky coalition also faces other challenges, including an ailing economy and ongoing Islamic militancy _ a major concern of the U.S. and other Western nations.
The lawyers' movement, which spearheaded protests against Musharraf last year, is demanding that the new civilian administration quickly reinstate the judges.
Convoys of lawyers and other activists were expected to arrive Tuesday in the central city of Multan. There, Zulfikar Khosa, a top official in Sharif's party in Punjab province, said party members would march with the protesters, who then are to head to Lahore.
"We will be part of this struggle until the removal of the dictator and success of the lawyers," Khosa said.
Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said Monday that the government would not try to stop the demonstrators from marching to 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.
However, security was beefed up in the capital.
Several 40-foot shipping containers blocked the main road leading to the president's office and Parliament, with more than a dozen more containers awaiting use nearby. Paramilitary forces also built several new sandbag positions in the area.
On Monday, lawyers and activists held their first round of rallies in cities across the country.
In Karachi, about 4,000 political activists chanted "Go, Musharraf, go!" and "Musharraf is an American dog!" In Multan, lawyers beat and burned a large effigy of Musharraf.
And in 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.