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Pakistan Lawyers Press for Reinstatement of Judges

The former president of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association says lawyers will continue to protest until the country's judiciary is restored. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.

Muneer Malik says Pakistan's legal community is prepared to organize protests to demand the re-instatement of judges fired last year.

But the former president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association says the manner of protest will have to be carefully chosen.

"The challenge now would be - in what manner do we protest that we can come to an objective and at the same time not provide an excuse or an opportunity to interventionist forces which would mean again the army to step in and say: well there is chaos in the cities, on the streets, and the only way to enforce law and order is for the army to step in," Malik said.

Malik spoke in Hong Kong, where the Asian Human Rights Commission awarded him with this year's Asian Human Rights Defender Award. It honors the role that Pakistani lawyers played in upholding the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law last year, after President Pervez Musharraf dismissed 60 of the country's high court judges and declared a state of emergency. Malik was arrested for leading protests.

The coalition partners who replaced Mr. Musharraf's government after February elections have struggled to agree on how to reinstate the judges.

On Monday, Nawaz Sharif said his Pakistan Muslim League - N party would pull out of the government after talks about the issue collapsed. The PML-N wants the unconditional reinstatement of the judges. Its coalition partner, the Pakistan People's Party wants to link reinstatement to constitutional reforms. This includes retaining the judges Mr. Musharraf installed in November.

Malik says most lawyers oppose to the PPP's proposal.

"Our position is that if you talk about a constitutional amendment, then you are really admitting that what happened on November third was lawful and that you need another law to set it aside," Malik said.

Malik says there is one condition under which he would accept the retention of the judges Mr. Musharraf appointed. He says they will first need to be scrutinized by parliament and the chief justice to be tested on their competence and integrity.