The move against Chaudhry has fuelled suspicion that Musharraf feared 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.

   

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"The Pakistan government's promise not to intervene is little little more than hot air"

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Protesting lawyers and opposition activists clashed with police in the capital, Islamabad, and in Lahore last week.

   

There were no demonstrations in those cities on Monday, but lawyers across the country stopped work for an hour in a token protest and several hundred lawyers marched in Karachi. There was no trouble.

 

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.