Pakistan's Sharif fires up lawyers against Musharraf
Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif told tens of thousands of supporters of the country's deposed chief justice Friday that President Pervez Musharraf would be forced to "pay for his crimes."
Around 30,000 lawyers and political activists chanting "Go, Musharraf, Go!" swarmed into Islamabad at the climax of a cross-country "long march" to demand the reinstatement of dozens of judges sacked by Musharraf last year, the AFP reported.
"Musharraf will have to pay for his crimes, he will not be given a safe passage now," said Sharif, waving his fists in the air in a hard-hitting speech aimed at his arch-foe, who ousted him in a bloodless military coup in 1999.
Lawyers have led opposition to Musharraf since he fired judges, including chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, under emergency rule in November, and vow to stage a sit-in outside parliament until the government restores him.
"I can see in you the dawn of a new sun. Your passion will restore the supremacy of the law, restore the judges and punish this dictator," Sharif told the flag-waving crowd, which answered with cries of "Hang Musharraf!"
Friday's rally, which was held amid tight security, came after a caravan comprising hundreds of vehicles completed a 24-hour journey from the eastern city of Lahore on the final leg of a nationwide protest.
Police said around 30,000 people had gathered, including protesters outside the parliament building in the capital as well as those in the cavalcade. Protest organisers said the figure was 50,000.
Around 6,000 paramilitary troops and police were deployed in Islamabad ahead of the arrival of the lawyers. Military helicopters flew low over the protesters.
Authorities used barbed wire and shipping containers to block the parliament building in the capital and stationed armoured personnel vehicles at several points.
It was the the biggest protest since Musharraf's allies lost elections in February, to be replaced in government by a coalition that is led by the party of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto and also features Sharif's party.
The coalition has vowed to restore the deposed judges, whom Musharraf sacked under a state of emergency on November 3 when it appeared they would overturn his re-election as president the previous month.
But it has been hobbled so far by disagreements over the mechanics, since bringing back Chaudhry could lead to a standoff with Musharraf and also threaten an amnesty given to Bhutto's husband on graft charges.
Sharif pulled his party's ministers from the cabinet in May over the issue.
The government has announced several steps in recent days that indicate the restoration of the judges is imminent, including a decision to increase the size of the Supreme Court from 16 to 29.
It has also decided to pay seven months' salaries to all those deposed by Musharraf, a government spokesman told AFP.