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Pakistan lawyers clash with police over chief justice suspension

[JURIST] Hundreds of Pakistani lawyers in business suits clashed with police Saturday, throwing rocks after riot police fired teargas to disrupt a gathering to protest the suspension [JURIST report] of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry [official profile]. The clash took place notwithstanding Friday's move by the country's Supreme Judicial Council to lift all restrictions [JURIST report] on the liberty of Chaudhry, prompting Syed Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari, secretary of the Pakistani Supreme Court Bar Association to speculate that "some invisible hand is trying to create chaos." The Supreme Judicial Council's next hearing on the case is scheduled for March 21. A lawyers spokesman says the bar will mark the day with a national strike.

Speaking at a public meeting in Punjab province Saturday, Pakistan President Pervez Musharaf [official website] was quoted by wire services as saying, "there are those who are doing politics and hatching conspiracies against me and the country on an issue which is legal and constitutional and is being taken up by the Supreme Judicial Council." Musharaf insisted he has no "personal differences" with Chaudhry, but the confrontation with the bar over the past week has arguably rocked his authority more than any other crisis in the eight years since he seized power from a civilian government. Critics have called his suspension of the Chief Justice typical of a "dictator."

Musharraf suspended Chaudhry "after receiving numerous complaints and serious allegations for misconduct, misuse of authority and actions prejudicial to the dignity of the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan." Pakistani lawyers have boycotted the courts [JURIST report] since Chaudhry's suspension and earlier street protests have resulted in injuries and arrests [JURIST report]. Reuters has more. AFP has additional coverage.

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