Ali Ahmed Kurd, a lawyer on Chaudhry's legal team, told opposition party workers in Taxila, a town on the way: "The constitution gives the people of Pakistan the right to rule the country. We will no longer allow any army general to rule the country." 

   

Lawyers and the opposition see the March 9 suspension of Chaudhry as an attack on the independence of judiciary and their protest has turned into a broad campaign for the restoration of full democracy in the country.

   

Chaudhry has denied charges of misconduct levelled by General Musharraf, who came to power in a bloodless coup almost eight years ago.

 

Analysts suspect Musharraf's motive for seeking to remove the judge stems from fears of an adverse ruling should the opposition raise constitutional challenges against the president's plan to seek a second five-year term.

 

Media ban

   

There were no live broadcasts of Chaudhry's journey to Abbottabad, as the authorities have clamped down, partly out nervousness that people were becoming bolder in voicing criticism of the powerful military.

 

Previous rallies have been televised [AFP]
Syed Talat Hussain, a news director at the private Aaj television, said: "We cannot do it after authorities conveyed to us that we need a prior permission for any live coverage of an event."

 

Earlier, television channels had followed Chaudhry on his travels to address the legal community in various cities, and broadcast live pictures of rousing receptions.

 

There is a standing regulation banning the gathering of more than five people, without prior permission in Islamabad, though it has yet to be enforced by the city authorities.

   

Officials said there have been no cases registered against people who have organised rallies in the capital in support of the chief justice.

   

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

 

Deaths

   

The controversy has already 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.

   

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.