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Pak lawyers set to oust Musharraf

Pakistani lawyers on Thursday launch a countrywide campaign to restore civilian democracy and oust President Pervez Musharraf.

world Updated: Sep 06, 2007 17:30 IST

Pakistani lawyers on Thursday launched a countrywide campaign to restore civilian democracy and oust President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999.

"Our struggle is for the people's rights. We want the people to rule this country, not a dictator or a military ruler," Munir Malik, the head of the Supreme Court Bar Association, told DPA.

The lawyers, who proved their strength this year in a successful series of rallies for the reinstatement of suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, observed a brief boycott of court proceedings over Musharraf's plans to get himself re-elected for five more years.

Scores of lawyers wearing black armbands gathered outside the Supreme Court building and chanted their stock slogan of "Go Musharraf, Go."

Demonstrations were also held in several cities and towns across the country.

The lawyers' action comes as Musharraf fights for his political survival amid a slump in popularity and a swell of Islamic militancy in Pakistan.

Suspected insurgents from the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan targeted military intelligence officials close to the president's army residence on Tuesday, killing some 30 people and injuring more than 60.

The military ruler's authority was largely unchallenged up to March when he tried to remove Chaudhry over allegations of abuse of office.

The step was widely seen as an attempt to neutralise a possible threat to his re-election plans by the independent-minded judge, and triggered a national resistance movement by lawyers, opposition forces and rights groups.

The challenges to Musharraf grew when the reinstated chief justice said last month that former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif could return home from exile.

Sharif plans to arrive on Sep 10 and has pledged to lead opposition to Musharraf's bid to secure another term from national and provincial assemblies between Sep 15 and Oct 15.

Two-time prime minister Sharif was sent to exile in 2000, just over a year after his dismissal during the military takeover.

He has emerged as the main rival to Musharraf, who is currently in power-sharing talks with another exiled opposition leader and ex-premier, Benazir Bhutto.

While a deal is opposed by many members of her liberal Pakistan People's Party, Bhutto says it would be a step towards restoration of civilian democracy as the president would be required under its terms to step down as army chief.

However, Pakistani lawyers' associations reject the deal talks and are calling for a broad political movement to drive Musharraf from power whether he retains his military status or not.

"We have urged political parties to ensure that their members resign from parliament before September 15 to block the presidential elections, and to join us in our movement for the revival of democracy," Malik said.

The lawyers also plan to observe a "black day" of protest when the general files his nomination papers for the presidential vote.