Supporters of Pakistan's suspended judge march

ISLAMABAD, May 26 (Reuters) - About 3,000 supporters of Pakistan's suspended top judge marched through the capital Islamabad on Saturday as the judge prepared to address lawyers at the Supreme Court.

Government attempts to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry over unspecified accusations of misconduct, levelled on March 9, have sparked a broad campaign against President Pervez Musharraf and demands for the restoration of full democracy.

The campaign by lawyers and the opposition is the most serious challenge to the authority of the president, who is also army chief, since he seized power in 1999.

Chaudhry was due to speak in the evening at a seminar on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, two weeks after his attempt to meet supporters in Karachi sparked the worst political street violence in Pakistan in years.

About 40 people were killed in two days of clashes between pro-government activists trying to prevent Chaudhry from holding a rally in Karachi and opposition supporters.

There was no trouble in Islamabad on Saturday as Chaudhry made his way from his home to the Supreme Court for the seminar.

Crowds of lawyers and opposition party supporters mobbed his car, cheering and chanting anti-Musharraf slogans as Chaudhry inched his way along the two-km (one-mile) route, which took him more than two hours to travel.

Police kept a low profile.

Opposition activists watched the seminar on a big screen set up on the street outside the Supreme Court while hundreds of lawyers and judicial officials attended the meeting inside.

Chaudhry denies wrongdoing and has refused to resign.

The Supreme Court suspended a judicial panel's inquiry into the accusations against Chaudhry on May 7, saying a full bench of the court should hear Chaudhry's petition challenging the panel's right to hear the accusations.

The bench of 13 Supreme Court judges began hearing Chaudhry's petition on May 15.


Chaudhry has avoided making overt political comment and has not given media interviews since the crisis blew up.

Nevertheless, Musharraf has criticised lawyers for politicising the issue, and has said the courts must be allowed to rule on Chaudhry's fate.

Musharraf aims to be re-elected by the present national and provincial assemblies in September or October, about a month before they are dissolved for a general election possibly in December or January.

There are several reasons why the government may have wanted to get rid of Chaudhry, including his decision to make security agencies account for people who have disappeared while in detention.

But most analysts say Musharraf saw the judge as someone he couldn't rely on if there were constitutional challenges to either his re-election by sitting assemblies or the retention of his army role.

Musharraf has ruled out declaring a state of emergency as a way out of the crisis and said the elections will be held on time.