Pakistan police block Sharif march to house of deposed chief justice

Police put up barricades to block former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and hundreds of supporters as they tried to march Thursday to the heavily guarded home of Pakistan's deposed chief justice.

Pakistan police block Sharif march to house of deposed chief justice

The protesters were nearly outnumbered by riot police, who blocked the route to Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry's official residence with concrete blocks, steel and barbed wire.

Chaudhry has been under house arrest since Nov. 3, when President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency and sacked most of the Supreme Court justices just before they were to rule on the validity of his re-election in October.

Musharraf has since stacked the court with loyalists, who have promptly dismissed all complaints against the former general's election.

Sharif led the marchers — who included members of his party, lawyers in black suits and a number of women carrying flowers, chanting "Finish with your show; go, Musharraf, go" — to the barricades.

He then briefly addressed them before they dispersed peacefully, defusing a potential showdown with a government that has shown no tolerance for public dissent.

Sharif vowed to continue pursuing the reinstatement of Chaudhry and other judges, saying "God willing, we will be victorious."

"I want to tell the nation that past dictators were also used to ousting prime ministers, arresting them from their houses and hanging even one of them," he said. "Now a dictator has attacked the judiciary, and if the nation today ignores these actions of a dictator, history will not forgive it."

Since returning from exile in Saudi Arabia 10 days ago, Sharif — ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 military coup — has become the president's most vehement critic.

Nearing agreement

Meanwhile, Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party of another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, were reported to be nearing agreement on a joint set of conditions for their participation in parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8.

Both parties claim the government plans to rig the vote, and have threatened a boycott unless their demands are met. They are expected to demand restoration of an independent judiciary and the constitution, and creation of a neutral caretaker government and independent election commission.

"We're optimistic that we'll reach agreement because everyone wants to pull the country out of this crisis and prevent Musharraf from rigging the elections," said Ahsan Iqbal, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League-N. "Despite our differences in the past, we are legitimate democratic parties while Musharraf is an illegitimate military dictator."

In Lahore, about 700 lawyers and activists rallied to demand the reinstatement of Chaudhry and other judges. The protesters, who marched through the city chanting anti-government slogans, later dispersed peacefully.

Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Aralık 2007, 15:32
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