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Musharraf warns against army bashing

world Updated: May 31, 2007 14:00 IST

AFP
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President Pervez Musharraf warned against criticism of the army as the government on Thursday urged legal action over "derogatory" remarks by supporters of Pakistan's suspended top judge.

Military ruler Musharraf removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on March 9, citing alleged misconduct. The move sparked the biggest political challenge to the general since he seized power eight years ago.

Musharraf told army officers in the eastern city of Jhelum on late Wednesday that a weekend seminar at the Supreme Court featuring fiery speeches by lawyers against his rule was an "assault" on the legal system.

The language used at the meeting -- where the audience chanted "Go Musharraf, go" and other slogans -- was "tantamount to humiliating the armed forces and judiciary," a military statement quoted the president as saying.

Chaudhry, who also spoke at the seminar, did not overtly criticise Musharraf but issued a veiled warning that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Opponents say Musharraf suspended the independent-minded Chaudhry to remove any legal hurdle to retaining his dual position as president and army chief beyond 2007, when he is constitutionally meant to hang up his uniform.

Musharraf last week said his uniform "has become part of my skin" and declined to set up a date to step down as military chief.

The Supreme Court is to begin a hearing on Monday into petitions against "derogatory remarks made at the seminar about the government, judiciary and armed forces," court officials said.

The interior ministry had sent a letter to the court asking it to take action.

Meanwhile Musharraf said he had "strongly urged the media not to to politicise a purely judicial and legal matter," the latest in a series of such pronouncements.

"The president said the media is free to criticize any action of the government but emphasised that their actions must not demoralise the nation," the statement said.

Television stations should not broadcast talk shows that discuss Chaudhry's ongoing legal fight against the charges, it said.

The president's statement comes amid what press and television organisations say is a sudden rise in pressure on the media in Pakistan.

Three Pakistani journalists working for foreign news organisations had envelopes with bullets inside left in their cars in Karachi on Tuesday, just over two weeks after violent clashes in the city left 40 people dead.