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Pakistani Lawyers Confront New Government to Reinstate Judges

The Pakistani lawyers whose protests helped drive President Musharraf from office have returned to the streets and this time they are targeting the country's newly- elected government. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad the lawyers say the political parties who backed their demands to reinstate senior judges just a few months ago have now largely abandoned them.

Pakistan's black-suited lawyers are widely credited with sparking the democratic movement that ended Pervez Musharraf's nearly nine-year rule.

But after the president resigned on August 18, the lawyers have replaced their well-known chant of "Go, Musharraf, Go" with a slogan against the man who once championed their cause.

"Who is responsible for betraying the judiciary? Zardari is! Zardari is!" they say.

Asif Ali Zardari is the leader of the Pakistan People's Party and likely presidential successor to Mr. Musharraf.

His party's coalition government fell apart earlier this week after its main partner, the Pakistan Muslim League - N, accused it of failing to honor pledges to restore the judiciary.

But political leaders of the PML-N, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, did not join the 7,000 lawyers who protested in major cities.

A spokesman told VOA Mr. Sharif's party still supports the lawyers, but party leaders are focusing on the presidential elections scheduled for September 6.

The lack of political support and some signs of dissension among the deposed judges have undermined the once formidable lawyers' movement.

Deposed lawyers return to work

On Wednesday, eight more judges of the 60 who were deposed by President Musharraf decided to take a new oath with the government and resume their duties. They joined about 20 others who have returned to work since last November's state of emergency.

Judges who have refused to take a new oath, including the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry, say they were never legally fired and should not have to take an oath to resume their duties.

"We are struggling for the rule of law," said Athar Minallah, a senior lawyer and spokesman for the former chief justice. "And it is unfortunate that the democratic forces that are in power today - they unfortunately are bent upon validating the actions of Pervez Musharraf."

Violence continues in northwest

While political leaders prepare for next week's presidential elections, violence continues in Pakistan's northwest.

A bomb attack on a prison bus near Bannu killed nine police officers and two prisoners.

Wednesday, the military said a continuing offensive against Taliban militants in the Bajaur tribal region killed at least 44 more fighters. The military says more than 500 militants have been killed in recent weeks in the battle and more than 200,000 people have fled the fighting.

Top Pakistani and U.S. commanders met on an American aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing battle against al Qaida and Taliban fighters. A Pakistani military spokesman said the commanders discussed security issues, but he did not give details.