Lawyers were at the forefront of opposition to Musharraf after the former army chief clashed with Iftikhar Chaudhry, the then chief justice, in March last year.

Ongoing protests had posed a challenge to the coalition since it came to power following elections in February.

The country's second-biggest party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), headed by Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, pulled out of the ruling coalition on Monday saying its partner, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), had broken promises to give the judges their jobs back.

Analysts say the PPP, led by Asif Ali Zardari, have been slow to reinstate the judges because the party fears that Chaudhry will challenge an amnesty from corruption charges granted to Zardari and other party leaders.

'Principles, not jobs'

Aitzaz Ahsan, a PPP member who led the protests in the eastern city of Lahore, said: "The lawyers are proving how organised they are, that they have total consensus, and this protest will continue until the chief justice is restored.

"Those judges who have taken a new oath of their offices have accepted the illegal actions of former president Pervez Musharraf."

"We are not fighting for our jobs, but for principles," Ahsan added.

Aitzaz Ahsan said lawyers were not fighting for jobs, but for principles [AFP]
Protesters, who brought traffic to a standstill across the country, directed their anger at Zardari, who looks set to become president in a September 6 vote by legislators.

Hundreds of lawyers and activists chanted, "Down with Zardari" and "Zardari, killer of Pakistani judiciary," in the eastern city of Multan.

In Islamabad, protesters tore down banners of Zardari while similar protests were held in Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and smaller cities.

In elections due to be held next week, while the PPP has nominated Zardari for Pakistan's president, Sharif's party has put up a former supreme court judge, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui.

Musharraf's former party has nominated Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a former government minister and senior party official.