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Protest Convoy of Lawyers Greeted By Thousands of Supporters in Pakistani Capital

  • Ayaz Gul

A cross-country convoy of lawyers, political activists and civil society representatives has arrived in the Pakistani capital, where thousands of supporters gathered outside the parliament building. The rally, led by lawyers, is demanding reinstatement of dozens of judges President Pervez Musharraf sacked in November when he imposed six weeks of emergency rule in the country. From VOA's Islamabad bureau, Ayaz Gul reports on the progress of the multi-day protest.

The protest rally, dubbed as "long march," began its journey from the southern port city of Karachi this week. Similar rallies from other parts of Pakistan have joined it on the way.

The participants are expected to stage a peaceful sit-in outside the parliament building to demand restoration of the judges, including the country's deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

Authorities have deployed additional police outside key installations in Islamabad along with barbed wires and security cameras to discourage violent protests.

President Musharraf dismissed the judges in November to stop them from ruling on whether his re-election for a new term was legal while still army chief. His move outraged many in Pakistan, particularly lawyers who have organized regular rallies and boycotted court proceedings since then.

Supporters of the deposed judges see their reinstatement as the first step in setting Pakistan on a path to democracy and justice.

Atizaz Ahsan is the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and is leading the rally. Speaking to reporters on Friday he reiterated that their movement will continue until the judges are restored.

"It is a march not of geographical distance but of the distance of awareness and change, the change it is going to bring in the society," said Ahsan. "One thing has become inevitable because of this [long march], the judges have to be restored otherwise there will be no closure on this issue, no closure."

Lawyers and civil society groups in Pakistan were hoping political parties, which defeated Mr. Musharraf's supporters in the February elections, will fulfill their promises and give the judges their jobs back. But they have not been able to do so, provoking lawyers to launch the protest rally.

The Pakistan Peoples Party or PPP led by Asif Ali Zardari is the main governing party and disagrees with the country's second largest party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on how to reinstate the judges. The differences provoked Mr. Sharif to pull his ministers out of the coalition government.

The PPP-led government has promised to restore the judges without removing existing Supreme Court judges appointed by Mr. Musharraf. But Mr. Sharif's party is opposed to that policy and wants the government to reverse all those decisions the president has taken since November 3 when he declared the emergency rule.

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