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Pakistan lawyers strike to protest Musharraf purge

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani lawyers abandoned their legal tomes and took to the streets of the capital on Wednesday, yelling slogans and punching the air in protest at President Pervez Musharraf’s purge of the judiciary.

Lawyers march during a protest against emergency rule in Islamabad December 5, 2007. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Chanting “Go Musharraf Go,” members of the Islamabad Bar Association announced they were cutting their work day in half indefinitely until Musharraf reinstates a host of judges he deposed to fend off challenges to his re-election.

This appears most unlikely for now.

Lawyers have spearheaded protests against Musharraf since he tried to sack the chief justice in March and then imposed emergency rule in November, suspended the constitution and purged the Supreme Court. But they say the nation’s politicians have let them down.

“We want the judges who have been removed illegally and unconstitutionally from their offices ... to be reinstated, and the constitution should be restored and the fundamental rights of the people should be restored,” said Haroon Ur Rashid, president of the Islamabad Bar Association.

“Until then we will continue our protest,” he said. “Until the reinstatement of the other judges, we will not appear before the High Courts and Supreme Court of Pakistan.”

At 11 a.m. sharp, lawyers in traditional black suits and ties and white shirts left the warren of court rooms and offices at the city’s district court complex and marched around them, extending a symbolic hourly boycott observed in recent weeks.

Some staged a token hunger strike, foregoing lunch.

Lawyers boycotted the courts elsewhere, including in Peshawar in the northwest. Lawyers in the southern financial hub of Karachi continued to observe a one-hour work stoppage, and were expected to stage a full-day boycott on Thursday.

JUDGES JAILED

Musharraf has freed more than 5,000 lawyers and opposition activists rounded up after he declared the emergency, but several Supreme Court judges including deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry are still being held under house arrest.

“This is amounting to illegal confinement on the part of the present government!” said Syed Mohammad Tayyab, the Islamabad Bar’s general secretary.

Lawyers in Lahore are boycotting high court proceedings, and on Wednesday protested outside the official residence of a deposed high court judge ordered to vacate the property.

The judge had a heart attack after receiving the order, and was taken to hospital, a lawyer said.

Some civilians left waiting outside the courts in Islamabad were frustrated, saying it was they who would lose out.

Lahore teacher Irfan Aized, 29, is still waiting for the court to approve settlement of a dispute over the theft of his car, and is worried he could lose his job.

“I am doing a private job. If I am not doing it at the proper time, they will kick me out, definitely,” he said. “This lawyers’ boycott is going to affect the lives of the common man.”

From now on, the bar intends to prioritize cases to be heard according to the severity of the charges, shunting lesser cases such as Aized’s to the back of the queue. Lawyers say the public must grin and bear it.

“Whenever there’s a movement you do sacrifice something. You can’t be a martyr out of nothing,” said barrister Zunaira Fayyaz, adjusting her ivory-colored headscarf.

“It does make me sad when I look around and I see that my country is probably going to go down the drain.”

“I think the judiciary is the soul of any state. When the soul is gone, you don’t have a conscience, and when the conscience is gone, then where’s justice and what do you do with the country?”

Additional reporting by Kamran Haider and Faisal Aziz; editing by Roger Crabb

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