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"The people of Pakistan are with you. In the eyes of the law all citizens are equals," Chaudhry told the procession.

 

"It is the basic responsibility of the courts to protect the fundamental rights of the people, especially the higher judiciary."

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Protests in support of Chaudhry led by lawyers and opposition groups have developed into a broad campaign for what they regard as greater democracy in the country.

 

Critics of Musharraf have said that his attempts to remove the judge are because of fears of an adverse ruling should the opposition raise constitutional challenges to his plans to seek a second five-year term in the next few months.

 

There are strong suspicions that Musharraf aims to disregard a constitutional obligation for him to quit as chief of army staff by the end of this year. Lawyers in Abbottabad sang "Uncle, why don't you take off the uniform?"

 

Aitzaz Ahsan, the leader of the legal team defending Chaudhry against charges of misconduct, delivered a sharp response to a statement of support for Musharraf from the senior army members on Friday.


"Our movement cannot be stopped through barrels of guns, or through the threat of tanks and army. We will continue our struggle," Ahsan told supporters in the town of Haripur.

 

'Politicising judiciary'

 

The controversy has led to the most serious political violence in Pakistan for decades.

 

About 40 people were killed in Karachi when supporters from a party in the ruling coalition clashed with opposition activists during a visit by Chaudhry on May 12.

 

The convoy of cars carrying Chaudhry and his supporters on Saturday took more than 12 hours to reach Abbottabad, 60km northeast of Islamabad, as they stopped to speak with supporters along the way.

 

By the time he reached his destination, about 35,000 people had come out to cheer and shower his vehicle with rose petals.

 

Musharraf has accused lawyers and opposition parties of politicising a judicial matter.

 

An inquiry into the misconduct allegations against Chaudhry has been halted, pending a decision by the supreme court over which legal body should have jurisdiction over the case.