June 15, 2008

Pakistanis March for Restoration of Judges -Tens of Thousands Gather in Capital, Decry Musharraf

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 2:08 am
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Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 14, 2008; Page A09

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 13 — Tens of thousands of people marched on Pakistan’s capital Friday to demand the reinstatement of about 60 judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf last year.

In an unprecedented show of force, lawyers, merchants, textile workers, teachers and a sprinkling of housewives traveled from every corner of the country to Islamabad to register their discontent with Musharraf.

Dubbed “The Long March” by its organizers, the four-day nationwide protest kicked off in the southern urban hub of Karachi on Tuesday, gathered strength as it hit the central city of Lahore late Thursday and veritably exploded as it pushed toward the capital.

Public pressure to restore the judges began mounting after Musharraf suspended the Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, in March 2007, a move that set off widespread protests that have gone on unabated.

The Supreme Court reinstated Chaudhry in July. But in a move viewed as a preemptive strike aimed at quashing challenges to his presidency, Musharraf fired the chief justice and placed him and several other judges under house arrest after declaring emergency rule in November.

Restoration of the judges became the central issue in parliamentary elections in February, leading to the routing of Musharraf’s party at the polls. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, ordered Chaudhry’s release three months ago.

As the march approached the garrison city of Rawalpindi late Friday afternoon, thousands of lawyers in their trademark black coats and ties swarmed down the city’s dusty, crowded streets in blistering heat beneath banners demanding Musharraf’s resignation. Shopkeepers and students from as far away as the northwest city of Peshawar and the disputed territory of Kashmir joined them in the chant that has become the movement’s unrelenting mantra: “Go, Musharraf, go! Go, Musharraf, go!

Abdul Manan, 60, a shopkeeper from Peshawar, said he traveled to the capital to add his voice to the rising chorus calling for Musharraf’s ouster, Chaudhry’s reinstatement and the country’s break with Musharraf’s top ally — the United States.

“I have come for the chief justice,” Manan said. “He will give us justice and freedom from Musharraf and his master, America.”

As a bus carrying Chaudhry and the movement’s firebrand second in command, Aitzaz Ahsan, slowly crept toward the capital from Rawalpindi, thousands of people had already gathered on the closely guarded square several hundred yards from Parliament.

Latif Mughan, 75, a Supreme Court attorney, set up a mini-museum on the hot pavement that was part paean to Chaudhry, part poke at Musharraf and the Bush administration. Standing on top of a U.S. flag scrawled with anti-American slogans, Mughan kicked at a stuffed monkey bearing the face of President Bush, then waved a flag depicting Musharraf in a noose.

“Musharraf should go. He is the biggest terrorist in the world,” Mughan said. “Musharraf is not the president. He is the puppet of Bush.”

Pakistan’s two ruling parties have been divided over how or when to reinstate Chaudhry and the other judges. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, has called for the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of the judiciary. But Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, has been pushing for the judges to be restored through a complex package of constitutional amendments.

Despite the divide between the two parties, their supporters appeared united Friday evening as they crowded around a dais where Chaudhry, Ahsan and other leaders of the lawyers’ movement were to speak.

“We have only one agenda,” said Alia Zafar Raja, 28, a lawyer from Islamabad. “We want the restoration of the judges and the supremacy of Parliament. And we will stay here until Musharraf goes.”


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