Pakistan lawyers rally against president

ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of lawyers joined rallies across Pakistan today denouncing President Asif Ali Zardari after he clashed with the Supreme Court in a fresh crisis for the

insurgency-hit nation.

A rift opened on Saturday between the fragile government and influential judiciary when Zardari appointed two senior judges but the Supreme Court suspended the appointments, saying they appeared to violate the constitution.

The showdown threatens Zardari’s Western-backed government at a time of mounting US pressure on the country to eliminate Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants along its border with Afghanistan.

Lawyers on Monday boycotted courts and protested in the capital Islamabad and the cities of Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta, following a strike call by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA).

In the second-biggest city Lahore, about 300 lawyers in smart suits marched to the Punjab assembly building, where they burnt tyres and chanted, “Go, Zardari, Go!”, lawyers’ representatives and witnesses said.

Most of the approximately 10,000 lawyers based in Karachi — Pakistan’s largest city and financial capital — did not attend court proceedings.

“We are protesting for an independent judiciary and supremacy of democracy,” lawyers’ leader Rashid Razvi said. “All the lawyers are united for one cause, which is to make Pakistan a truly democratic country.” About 50 pro-Zardari lawyers also gathered in the city, with one of their leaders Qazi Bashir charging that “hidden hands are conspiring against the democratic system of Pakistan.” Wearing their trademark black jackets and punching their fists in the air, about 100 lawyers also marched under tight security from the Supreme Court to parliament chanting: “We stand by the judiciary.” Zardari on Saturday elevated Lahore’s top judge Khawaja Sharif to the Supreme Court and named Saqib Nisar to replace him.

The Supreme Court suspended the decision within hours, saying Zardari had broken with protocol by failing to consult Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on Sharif’s appointment.

The court summoned the attorney general to appear on Thursday and will rule on whether Zardari’s actions violated the constitution. SCBA president Qazi Anwar said the lawyers planned to hold protests until the hearing.

Analysts say Zardari’s

eligibility as president could be challenged if he is found in

violation of the constitution, and suggest that a U-turn on the appointments is his only way out of the crisis.