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Recriminations follow Pakistan killings as chief justice crisis escalates

[JURIST] Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf [official profile] traded barbs and accusations with opponents over the weekend after 39 people were killed [JURIST report] Saturday in Karachi in clashes sparked by the arrival of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry [official profile; JURIST news archive], who had traveled there to address a meeting of lawyers supporting him in his fight against his March 9 suspension. The deaths were widely attributed to fighting between pro-government and anti-government factions in the city. Speaking to a government rally Saturday evening in Islamabad, Musharraf said the fighting stemmed from the politicization of a legal issue and called upon the country's lawyers to stop violent protests by letting the courts decide matters:

The lawyers should not give the matter a political twist. Stop this protest and reject those who are politicising the issue...My heart bled at the site of happenings in Karachi; it was horrible to see the sufferings of the people; this is no way of seeking freedom for the judiciary... Stop politicising and let the judiciary do justice.
Lawyers for Chaudhry in turn blamed the central government for not intervening to stop the clashes, suggesting that it was actively fomenting violence around what would otherwise have been another peaceful protest by pro-Chaudhry lawyers. Observers suggest that the many violent deaths may have seriously compromised the Musharraf's position in his standoff with Chaudhry. The New York Times has more. PTI has additional coverage. Two more people were killed in additional clashes [AFP report] Sunday and Karachi's police chief was quoted by AFP as saying the situation in the city remained "very tense."

Chaudhry was technically made "non-functional" [JURIST report] by a March 9 order of Musharraf. No specifics were provided at the time of his suspension but documents subsequently disclosed [JURIST report] suggest he was officially removed on suspicion of misusing his influence to get his son jobs and promotions. Lawyers and opposition leaders critical of the move consider the suspension an assault on the independence of the country's judiciary and an indirect bid by Musharraf to continue his eight-year rule in an election year. Pakistan's Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) began an inquiry into Chaudhry's alleged misconduct, but the investigation was suspended [JURIST report] Monday after Chaudhry appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the SJC lacked competence to try him. The Supreme Court Tuesday created a special panel of judges [JURIST report] to hear the challenge.

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