Judge row overshadows Pakistan Day

Pakistan's chief justice calls for an open hearing into the accusations against him.

    Protests over the sacking of Pakistan's top judge
    have developed into a crisis for Musharraf [AP]

    'Danger of extremism'
    Lawyers and opposition activists clashed with police in Islamabad and Lahore last week. Protests have continued this week but there has been no serious trouble.
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    In his speech on Pakistan's National Day, marking the anniversary of a 1940 demand by a Muslim political party for a Muslim homeland in then British-ruled South Asia, Musharraf warned of the spread of "extremism" in Pakistani society.
    "This cannot be handled by a single individual or force. Therefore, I appeal to every person and the entire nation to stand up and save the nation from the danger of extremism and terrorism," he said.
    But the uproar over Chaudhry has diverted public attention from security issues.
    Protests triggered
    The suspension of Chaudhry on March 9 triggered protests that have developed into a crisis for Musharraf, with critics claiming the move to sack the judge stemmed from his fears that Chaudhry would block any attempt by him to keep the post of army chief, which he is due to give up this year.
    Many judges and lawyers see the move against Chaudhry as an attack on the independence of the judiciary and seven judges and a deputy attorney-general have resigned in protest over the sacking.
    Chaudhry might also have been called to rule on the timing of the next presidential election.
    Under the Pakistani system, parliament and provincial assemblies elect the president.
    But Musharraf's aides have said he might call on existing assemblies to do this, rather than on new assemblies due to be elected later this year or early in 2008.
    Chaudhry wants open hearing
    The government has not announced the accusations against Chaudhry but a newspaper published them on Wednesday, with the main accusation appearing to be that Chaudhry had used his position to help his son be promoted in his a public sector career.
    The judicial watchdog hearing the accusations against him is due to hold its third closed session on April 3.
    Chaudhry, in his first media interview since his suspension, told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper that he was innocent and that he wanted an open hearing into the accusations against him.
    He told the newspaper: "I want all the citizens of Pakistan to know that their chief justice is not at fault."
    "That is why I want the public to know of the charges as well as of my defence," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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