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Anti-Musharraf Protests in Pakistan Show No Sign of Abating

Pakistan's suspended chief judge has appeared before a judicial panel in the capital, as a political street battle over his fate enters its fourth week. From Islamabad, VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports that lawyers and political activists continue taking to the streets in the thousands, protesting the suspension and calling for the Pakistani president to resign.

Hundreds of protesters squared off with security forces outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad.

Thousands more joined similar demonstrations in major cities across Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9 over unspecified allegations of abuse of power.

That sparked a firestorm of political protest that, more than three weeks later, shows no sign of dissipating.

Outside the Supreme Court Tuesday, opposition politician Raja Muhammad Asad Khan insisted that Mr. Musharraf must step down.

"He calls it a democracy, but this is not a democracy," he said. "This is not even a sham democracy. We are living in the worst kind of dictatorship, where the chief justice of Pakistan is handled like a common criminal."

Chaudry was inside the building, appearing before a three-judge panel that is reviewing the case against him, and will determine whether his suspension was valid. The hearing was adjourned until April 13, and there is no indication when a decision might come.

President Musharraf insists he acted constitutionally in suspending Chaudry, and has promised to abide by the panel's decision.

The president's critics say Mr. Musharraf acted out of self-interest. They say a legal challenge might be made to Mr. Musharraf's plans to run for re-election, and that challenge might have ended up with Chaudry, a notoriously independent judge who has ruled against the president in the past.

Political analysts here say the current political storm may be the greatest challenge Mr. Musharraf, an army general, has faced since taking power in a military coup in 1999.

Few experts think the controversy will actually topple the embattled president. But many say it has given the opposition some needed ammunition against him, and will likely keep him on the defensive for at least the next few months.