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Lawyers in Pakistan boycott courts
Opposition wants Musharraf to quit over CJs suspension
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad 

With suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry becoming a rallying point against General Musharraf, the legal community across the country on Monday boycotted courts while an all parties conference (APC) held here called upon Musharraf to quit power making way for a national government.

The APC announced a countrywide shutdown on Friday and decided to convene special sessions of both Houses of Parliament to discuss the evolving situation.

It was also decided to make it a top issue on the agenda of the upcoming all-parties conference convened by exiled premier Nawaz Sharif in London on March 24-25. Through a resolution, the APC said Musharraf had led the country to grave internal and external threats and should quit power voluntarily to save the country from chaos and anarchy.

Lawyers took out processions in major towns and clashed with the police in various cities, including Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad and Sukkur. In Lahore, over a dozen prominent lawyers were injured as a result of severe baton-charge by the police.

Outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, lawyers burned Musharraf's effigy and vowed to continue their agitation. Supreme Court Bar Association president Munir Malik announced that a convention of lawyers would be held in Islamabad this week to be attended by representatives of bar associations of the country to work out the future strategy.

Top politicians, including Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Imran Khan, Raja Zafrul Haq, Nisar Ali Khan, Nayyar Bokhari and others walked up to the residence to meet the beleaguered Chief Justice but were stopped by the police.

Justice Iftikhar continues to be cut off from the outside world amid stringent security.There was a brief scuffle between some of these leaders and policemen when the leaders tried to break the barriers.Imran Khan announced that opposition leaders and civil society activists would take out a procession from Parliament House to the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Only Air Marshal Asghar Khan, a veteran politician, was able to force his way through the police cordon on Sunday evening while three fellow judges of the Supreme Court were allowed to meet Iftikhar.

The presidential reference filed by Musharraf will come up for hearing on Tuesday when Justice Iftikhar would appear to receive the chargesheet and give his response. Asghar told newsmen after his meeting with Iftikhar that the Chief Justice wanted an open court so that the world could know the truth.

Despite intense pressure on him to resign voluntarily, Iftikhar has so far stood firm vowing to defend his honour. Asghar said security agencies had cut all his telephones, disconnected the TV cable and prevented entry of newspapers to completely shut the Chief Justice from the outside world.

SCBA chief Munir Malik said the lawyers would ignore the government warning not to besiege the Supreme Judicial Council when it begins hearing on the reference.He said the composition of the Supreme Judicial Council was illegal and Justice Javed Iqbal was not qualified to preside over it.

The government on Monday reiterated its warning to lawyers not to stage a planned siege (gherao) of the Supreme Judicial Council which meets on Tuesday to begin hearing in the reference.

Interior minister Aftab Sherpao said the law-enforcing agencies had been directed not to let anybody take the law into his hands.

Information minister Mohammad Ali Durrani told newspersons that the lawyers must desist from politicising a purely judicial issue. He said the matter was sub judice and in the hands of the country's highest judicial forum. Boycott of courts amounted to expression of no confidence in the judicial system and contempt, he added. 

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