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Thousands in Pakistan defy ban to rally for suspended chief justice

[JURIST] Thousands of Pakistanis rallied in support of suspended [JURIST report] Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive] Saturday, defying a government ban on unauthorized rallies [JURIST report] of more than five people declared Friday. The rally began in the capital city of Islamabad, and proceeded south for 30 miles to Abbotabad where an estimated 50,000 people, including many Pakistani lawyers, greeted Chaudhry's convoy with banners of support and portraits of Chaudhry. Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawyer for Chaudhry, said that police made no attempts to stop Chaudhry's supporters. The Pakistani government says it issued the partial ban on public gatherings of more than five people to ensure the peace and avoid inconvenience to the public. In April, a planned rally for Chaudhry in Karachi turned violent [JURIST report], resulting in 41 deaths.

Unlike previous rallies in support of Chaudhry, media coverage of Saturday's march was muted, which media outlets attribute to growing government pressure not to provide live coverage of Chaudhry's rallies. Pakistan Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani told AP that the government believed in the independence of the media, and that the government had only requested the media to cover news relating to Chaudhry in a "fair manner." On Friday, several television stations claimed they had been told that they will not be allowed to cover the march, and President General Pervez Musharraf told [press release] the media Wednesday to not "politicize a purely judicial and legal matter," and to follow the regulations set down by Pakistan's media regulatory authority. Many Pakistani lawyers and opposition leaders believe Chaudhry's suspension to be 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. AP has more.

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