- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

From combined dispatches

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Gunmen yesterday fatally shot a Supreme Court official regarded as a main witness by lawyers representing Pakistan’s suspended chief justice in his fight against President Pervez Musharraf’s move to fire him.

Syed Hammad Raza, a registrar of the Supreme Court, was shot at point-blank range by two or three gunmen just before dawn at his home in the capital, Islamabad, police and relatives said.

“He was an important person in our case,” Munir Ahmed Malik, a lawyer on suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s legal team, told Reuters news agency.

Another of Chief Justice Chaudhry’s lawyers said Mr. Raza was working closely with the suspended chief justice.

“He was witness to many things, like the chief justice said in his petition that some files were removed from his chamber on the day he was suspended,” the lawyer, Tariq Mehmood, said. “[Mr. Raza] was under pressure,” he said without elaborating.

Chief Justice Chaudhry has been at the center of a judicial and political crisis since Gen. Musharraf decided to fire him two months ago over undisclosed charges of misconduct.

Storefronts were shuttered and the streets of Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, emptied of cars yesterday as residents honored a general strike called during growing discontent over Gen. Musharraf’s ouster of the chief justice.

A weekend of violence linked to the dismissal of Chief Justice Chaudhry left 41 persons dead and more than 150 injured in Karachi.

Security forces on Saturday stood by as rival groups demonstrating over an aborted visit to Karachi by Chief Justice Chaudhry shot at each other, threw stones and burned cars and trucks. Opposition parties blamed the government for the violence and called yesterday’s strike.

“There is a complete strike in Karachi,” said Azhar Faruqi, the city police chief.

The unrest took an ominous ethnic turn on Sunday with clashes between Urdu-speaking Mohajirs linked to a pro-government party and Pashtuns, a rivalry that has caused bloodshed here in the past.

Officials said the strike was being observed in towns and cities across southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital. It was also observed in the capitals of Pakistan’s other three provinces, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.

In Lahore, about 8,000 people, including lawyers, opposition party and human rights activists, chanted “Go Musharraf Go” and “Death to Altaf Hussain.” Mr. Hussain is leader of the pro-government Muttahida Qaumi Movement party blamed by some for the Karachi violence.

“Today’s strike is a referendum against Musharraf, and we think he should step down as soon as possible,” said Ameerul Azeem, a spokesman for the Muttahida Majls-e-Amal, an opposition coalition of hard-line religious parties.

Gen. Musharraf plans to seek another five-year term as president this fall. Critics say his ouster of the independent-minded judge was designed to head off any legal challenges that would likely arise if Gen. Musharraf also retains his position as army chief.

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