Lawyers, police clash in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan &

Pakistan's deposed chief justice rallied supporters from house arrest today, saying the new government should immediately restore judges axed by President Pervez Musharraf during emergency rule.

Soon after, police fired tear gas at nearly 200 rock-throwing protesters who tried to remove barricades from in front of the judge's home.

Demonstrations also were held in three other cities, with lawyers chanting "Go, Musharraf, Go!" &

highlighting the challenges the country's two top opposition parties still face as they prepare to form a new government following this week's sweeping election win in parliament.

Leaders of the parties &

who together will control more than half the seats &

were preparing to meet today for the first time since the vote. However, if they are to form a coalition, the former foes will first have to iron out starkly differing views on Musharraf's future and the restoration of the judiciary.

Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest since Nov. 3, became a symbol of resistance following his ouster. His phone lines have been cut, but he got his hands on a smuggled mobile phone and called lawyers gathering in at least two cities.

He told those protesting at the Sindh High Court Bar Association in Karachi that the Pakistani people had repudiated Musharraf in Monday's polls and that unconstitutional measures taken by his archrival in recent months should be reversed.

"Victory is not far off now," he said, calling on judges to be immediately restored.

Later, hundreds of protesters began pulling back barbed wire and concrete barricades blocking the road to his house as 100 heavily armed riot police looked on. When the crowd started throwing rocks at police car trying to enter a nearby government ministers' enclave, security forces responded with several rounds of tear gas.

Outside the main court complex in the southern city of Karachi, police fired tear gas at more than 100 lawyers demanding Musharraf's resignation. Six were arrested, said police official Tahir Naveed. Hundreds rallied in the southwestern city of Quetta and in the eastern city of Lahore, some burning an effigy of Musharraf.

"There are occasions when a nation passes through defining moments and the Pakistani nation is passing through this defining moment now," Chaudhry told the Lahore lawyers, who held the phone up to a bullhorn so all could hear. "If we lose this opportunity no one can then change the affairs of this nation ever."

The Pakistan People's Party of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, now headed by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, says the parliament should decide on the fate of the embattled president and the deposed judges.

But Nawaz Sharif, leader of Pakistan Muslim League-N, says Musharraf should resign and the justices be immediately reinstated.

"If they don't find common ground, it will be an alliance of fire and water," said Zafarullah Khan, executive director of Pakistan's Center for Civic Education.

Sharif briefly joined protesters in front of Chaudhry's home, appealing to police to get of the way, saying they no longer had to obey the orders of the president.

"Musharraf's days are over ... Musharraf is an illegal and unconstitutional president!" he told the crowd. "In a few days time the chief justice will come out of this house and sit as the chief justice of the Supreme Court."

The election commission announced today it had halted vote counting in races for the remaining six unreported parliament seats because of unspecified irregularities in those constituencies. Four of the constituencies were in the North West Frontier Province and two in Punjab.

Although the official count has not yet been released, the two parties garnered 154 of the 268 contested seats Monday, according to Pakistan's Election Commission. Musharraf's ruling party came in a dismal third.

If the opposition teams up with smaller parties or some independents it could seize a two-thirds majority of parliament, leaving the president vulnerable to impeachment eight years after he seized power in a 1999 coup and went on to become a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

Scrambling to build up a coalition, Zardari met today with the leader of the Awami National Party, winner of nine seats.

"We have agreed to work together for democracy," he said without elaborating.

President Bush telephoned his Pakistani counterpart following the ruling party's election sweep, but White House press secretary Dana Perino said today it was up to the "people to decide whether Musharraf retains his position."

Musharraf's popularity, however, plummeted following decisions late last year to impose emergency rule, purge the judiciary, jail political opponents and curtail press freedoms.

One of the first tasks of the new government, expected to be installed by mid-March, will be determining how to fight Islamic extremists, who have expanded their reach beyond traditional northwestern regions bordering Afghanistan.

The country has been hit by dozens of attacks blamed on Muslim militants in recent months that together have left hundreds dead &

including Bhutto, killed in a suicide bombing and gun attack on Dec. 27 as she waved to supporters from the sun roof of her car.

Zardari has said he wants to open dialogue with al-Qaida- and Taliban-linked militants &

a sharp departure from Musharraf's hard-line approach.

Share This Story