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Pakistan Protests Over Judge Suspension Continue to Spread


Thousands of lawyers clashed with police in demonstrations throughout Pakistan against the government's controversial effort to dismiss the country's top judge. Security forces made mass arrests as the country enters its second week of political crisis. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Thousands of lawyers and opposition activists turned out for rallies in cities across Pakistan Wednesday.

Police in Lahore detained more than a hundred people in what officials there called "pre-emptive" arrests to protect public order.

Security officers in the southern city of Quetta also clashed with protesters, leaving several people injured.

There have been nearly daily protests since President Pervez Musharraf suspended the country's chief justice two weeks ago over unspecified allegations that he abused his authority.

The unexpected protest movement has ignited widespread speculation that General Musharraf is losing control over the country after more than seven years of sometimes heavy-handed rule.

Political analysts here say the judge's suspension has become a rallying cry for opponents of the military-backed government.

Government officials concede General Musharraf may have underestimated the controversy the judge's dismissal would stir up, and is quietly looking for ways out of the standoff.

But speaking to reporters during Wednesday's protest, opposition politician Imran Khan says the president may have few options left, as popular anger continues to grow.

"There's no way he can get out of this. If he restores the chief justice, he's doomed, because you will have, for the first time, an empowered chief justice," Khan says. "So, immediately, there will be a constitutional petition against the military dictator. If he removes him, he's doomed again, because what you see now is the beginning of a movement, and this is just going to grow."

President Musharraf has accused his opponents of politicizing the issue, and says he is the victim of a conspiracy.

The controversy comes as Pakistan braces for parliamentary elections, which are expected to be held within a year.

The president's supporters have hinted he will seek to be re-elected by the current national parliament, before calling elections, a move the opposition claims is unconstitutional and open to challenge in the Supreme Court.

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