- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Five judges resigned yesterday and hundreds of lawyers protested President Pervez Musharraf’s removal of Pakistan’s chief justice, deepening a political crisis for the military leader.

Gen. Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9 over unspecified assertions that he had abused his authority.

The move has sparked a nationwide strike by lawyers and protests by opposition activists and lawyers, drawing a forceful police response and hundreds of arrests.

Critics say Gen. Musharraf, who serves as both army chief and president, sought to remove the strong-willed Justice Chaudhry ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections expected within a year as legal challenges to his rule could have been brought to the Supreme Court. The government denies that the action was politically motivated.

Five judges submitted their resignations, following another who quit last week in protest of police manhandling of Justice Chaudhry.

“I have waited a few days before addressing you in the hope something will be done to remedy the harm done to the judicial organ of the state. It seems I have waited in vain,” Lahore High Court Judge Jawad S. Khawaja said in a resignation letter sent to Gen. Musharraf.

In Karachi, 1st Senior Civil Judge Ashraf Yar Khan said he was leaving his post because of “the present situation in the country” regarding the judiciary. Two more civil judges resigned in Karachi, and a third quit in the southern town of Pano Aqil, a judicial official in Karachi said on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to the press.

About 1,000 lawyers rallied in Karachi, chanting “Go, Musharraf, go!” and “Free the chief justice!”

Lawyers in the city boycotted court proceedings and announced a strike for tomorrow, when a judicial complaint council will resume hearing Justice Chaudhry’s case, said Ali Ahmed Kurd, deputy chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council. The panel of top judges is supposed to decide whether Justice Chaudhry should be fired or reinstated.

Munir A. Malik, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said lawyers were also striking in the cities of Quetta, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Lahore. He said 80 lawyers have been arrested on charges including treason, terrorism, damaging property and violating a ban on rallies. He predicted there would be more detentions.

“As the movement will increase, so will repression against lawyers,” he said.

Pakistan’s government is dominated by Gen. Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, promising to restore democracy. But the unceremonious handling of Justice Chaudhry and brute force used to contain protests over his removal have sparked public outrage.

Speaking on a television talk show yesterday, Gen. Musharraf said elections expected this year will be held on time. He ruled out imposing an emergency to end the uproar over the suspension of the chief justice, Reuters news agency reported.

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