Musharraf under pressure

 

Opponents of the president said he suspended Chaudhry illegally in a bid to weaken the judiciary and make it easier to stay on as army chief throughout 2007, when the constitution says he is meant to give up the  position.

 

Protesters chanted "Go Musharraf!" and "Musharraf is America's pet dog", as hundreds of paramilitary troops and baton-wielding riot police kept them outside the marble court building.

 

Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad, said that security forces were monitoring the growing crowd, but letting them gather outside the supreme court.

 

"Some people have estimated that there are up to 10,000 people outside the supreme court," he said.

 

Lawyers and opposition activists waved black flags and mobbed Chaudhry's car as he arrived at the court.

 

The government has not detailed the accusations against Chaudhry, but a newspaper has reported he has denied charges presented by Musharraf that he abused his position to get his son a senior police job.

 

Opposition unites

 

Opposition activists and supporters of former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif held separate but simultaneous protests, as well as workers from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) party headed by cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan.

 

"It is a genuine public movement, that's why the people are joining us," Khan said outside the court.

 

Some demonstrators burned tyres, sending a plume of black smoke above the court.

 

"It is a genuine public movement, that's why the people are joining us"

Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

Police set up body scanners to check all protesters entering the area where the protests were held, and erected roadblocks to check vehicles coming into the capital.

 

Police also arrested 200 people on Thursday in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and other towns "to prevent potential troublemakers from coming onto the streets and creating law and order problems," a government official said.

 

Aftab Sherpao, the interior minister, said: "We would not like any damage to be caused to public property and want the protesters to be peaceful."

 

Hundreds of lawyers also protested in the southern city of Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore and Peshawar in the northwest of Pakistan.

 

Musharraf is expected to seek re-election for another five-year presidential term by the outgoing parliament ahead of national polls due late this year or early next – a move that could also lead to legal challenges.

 

Musharraf has insisted that he acted constitutionally and that he was moving to stem corruption.