Lawyers in Islamabad, the capital, boycotted court proceedings and announced a strike for Wednesday, when a judicial complaint council will resume hearing Chaudhry's case, Ali Ahmed Kurd, deputy chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, said.
 
The panel of judges is meant to decide whether he should be fired or reinstated.

 

Political motives

 

Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, defended his move to dismiss the chief justice and said he has handed the judge evidence of complaints received against him.

 

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The president's move has fuelled suspicion that Musharraf feared that the independent-minded judge would block any move by the president to retain the role of army chief, which he is due to relinquish this year. Polls are due late this year or early next.

 

The government says the move was not politically motivated.

 

Musharraf denied as "absolutely wrong" suggestions in the media that the government removed Chaudhry after he repeatedly pressed authorities to give information on the whereabouts of people whose relatives say they have disappeared into the custody of intelligence agencies over suspected militant links.

 

In an interview with Pakistan's Geo TV aired on Monday, Musharraf condemned police action against protesters and acknowledged the government had mishandled the situation.

 

Police clashes

 

Protesting lawyers and opposition activists clashed with police in the capital, Islamabad, and in Lahore last week. The offices of Geo TV were also raided by police on Friday as it broadcast live from court.

 

One of the channel's most popular news shows had already been taken off air on Thursday, apparently for its coverage of the legal crisis. Musharraf made a personal apology over the raid and said 14 offiicers were suspended.

   

There were no demonstrations in Islamabad or Lahore on Monday, but lawyers across the country stopped work for an hour in a token protest and about 1,000 lawyers rallied in Karachi on Monday, chanting "Go, Musharraf, go!" and "Free the chief justice!"

 

The leader of the opposition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance of religious parties called for a protest outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Wednesday when Chaudhry is due to appear before a panel of judges hearing accusations against him.

 

"It's a political issue, a political fight ... we have to intensify street protests," Qazi Hussain Ahmed, president of the six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance, told reporters.

   

The US, a major ally of Pakistan, has urged both sides to show restraint.