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Protests Over Suspended Judge Continue in Pakistan


Protests against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's suspension of the country's chief justice are continuing, despite the detention Thursday of about 200 lawyers and other critics of the suspension. VOA's Benjamin Sand files reports from Islamabad.

Protesters again chanted anti-government slogans Friday and demanded the suspended justice be reinstated.

More than 2,000 people joined the rally outside the Supreme Court building here in the capital. Hundreds of heavily armed security forces stood guard nearby.

Inside the building, the former chief justice, Iftakhar Chaudry, was facing a five-member panel of judges reviewing unspecified charges that he abused his authority. The hearing was closed to the public and the news media.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Chaudry's defense lawyer, Munir Malik, said he spent most of the morning objecting to the panel itself. He claims the panel is already biased against his client.

Malik says he specifically objected to three of the five judges saying they have already decided the case against Chaudry, before all the facts have been presented.

Chaudry has previously accused the three men of harboring personal grievances against him, and says it will be impossible for him to receive a fair hearing. He is pushing for the hearings to be opened to the media.

President Musharraf suspended Chaudry on March 9, a move that galvanized the legal community and provoked massive protests around the country.

The government has refused to specify the charges against Chaudry that led to the suspension. Officials say the hearings will reconvene April 18, although there is still no indication of when a final decision can be expected.

Chaudry had ruled against President Musharraf's military-installed administration in several high-profile cases.

The president's critics say the judge's removal was an unprecedented challenge to the country's independent judiciary, and a ploy to remove a critic in advance of upcoming elections.

The president accuses his opponents of politicizing the issue for personal and political gain.

Mr. Musharraf says he will honor the panel's final recommendation on the justice, and will not interfere in the proceedings. However, government officials have confirmed that a number of lawyers and opposition activists were temporarily detained Thursday, ahead of Friday's protests.

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