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Suspended Pak CJ sent on forced leave
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

The Law Ministry has announced that Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has been sent on forced leave, triggering a fresh controversy over the authority to the ministry to force leave on the Chief Justice with retrospective effect.

Law minister Wasi Zafar in a late night statement released yesterday said the Chief Justice was sent on leave under Section 2 of the Judges Compulsory Leave Order, 1970, validated in 1975 under the Validation of Laws Act, 1975. He said the President took this action after receiving a reference against the Chief Justice from the government.

He said Justice Iftikhar will continue to be the Chief Justice on leave till the decision on the reference against him. The next senior-most judge Rana Bhagwandas will take over as acting Chief Justice on return from leave.

In an appeal to calm the lawyers outraged by the government moves against Justice Iftikhar, Wasi said the government was conscious and determined to abide by constitutional provisions and laws and assured the lawyers and the whole nation that the very moment Justice Bhagwandas returns he would be given the oath of acting Chief Justice as per the constitutional provisions.

Zafar said the government takes full responsibility of filing the reference. Acting Chief Justice Javed Iqbal also reaffirmed that he would immediately relinquish the present office when Justice Rana returns and would not accept any offer to continue.

Meanwhile, reeling under mounting protests against the suspension of the Chief Justice, the Pakistan government has eased restrictions on the top judge, allowing opposition leaders and lawyers to meet him.

A number of lawyers and politicians, including leaders of the Islamist Alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Fazlur Rehman, were allowed by the police to meet Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhury. Barricades set up around Chaudhry’s official residence were also removed by the police.

Officials here said Chaudhry was free to leave his home. One of Chaudhry’s lawyers, Tariq Mehmud said “however, they (officials) have clarified that there should be no mob, no procession and things like that.”

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