Pakistan's ousted Supreme Court chief justice has urged his supporters to protest the country's emergency rule, using a mobile-phone link to address a rally by the legal community. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that the United States issued another strong call for elections originally scheduled in January to take place "on schedule."
It was the first time since he was placed under house arrest Saturday that Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry's voice has been heard in public.
The man who has become a symbol of opposition to President Pervez Musharraf urged lawyers to demand that the constitution be reinstated. General Musharraf fired Chaudry late Saturday as he announced that he was placing the country under emergency rule, but Chaudry and his fellow justices say the emergency decree was unconstitutional.
Chaudry spoke by telephone to a rally of several-hundred lawyers near Islamabad's district court. His voice was received through a mobile phone that was held up to a loudspeaker - until the mobile networks in the capital suddenly went dead.
Chaudhry says lawyers, civil servants and members of the military should disobey the emergency order.
The government has given Supreme Court justices the choice of accepting a new provisional constitution, which imposed emergency rule, or stepping down. Eight of the justices have accepted the new constitution.
Chaudry and several others refused to accept the decree. In his address to the lawyers, he confirmed that he and six other justices had voted Saturday that the emergency decree was unconstitutional. Their ruling was ignored, however, and they were placed under house arrest.
On Tuesday, the eight justices who have accepted the emergency decree overturned that Saturday ruling. The eight also formally upheld the provisional constitution.
Chaudry's address energized the crowd of lawyers, many of whom wore bright red stickers with the slogan "down with dictatorship" written in Urdu. They chanted slogans accusing General Musharraf's allies of being traitors, and vowing not to accept what they called the country's current injustice.
Clashes between hundreds of lawyers and police were reported Pakistan's central city Multan, but the demonstration in Islamabad was largely peaceful. On Monday, hundreds of protesting lawyers were arrested, many of them in the central city of Lahore.
There were conflicting reports about whether and when the government plans to hold parliamentary elections, which were scheduled for January.
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, said she had met with the Pakistani Election Commission. She said she repeated Washington's "strong" interest in "ensuring that parliamentary elections take place as planned in January."
In a statement, Patterson called for opponents of Mr. Musharraf to be released from detention, and for an election schedule to be released "as soon as possible."
On Monday, U.S. President George Bush said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called Mr. Musharraf to say that Washington expects him to hold elections as soon as possible. Mr. Bush said Rice also told the general that he should step down from his role as military chief of staff.