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Pakistan lawyers face government opposition on second 'long march'

[JURIST] Members of the Pakistan lawyers' movement [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and opposition politicians and supporters began a "long march" from Karachi to Islamabad Thursday against the government of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website]. The protesters, led by Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website], faced continued raids and arrests from government forces, which began Wednesday when police units moved against opposition leaders and supporters [JURIST report] ahead of the march and a rally organized by the PML-N and other opposition parties against the Zardari government. Members of the lawyers' movement were harassed by the Pakistani police, including movement leader Muneer Malik [JURIST news archive], who, according to JURIST's Pakistan correspondent, was arrested and later released on Thursday. Pakistan news organization Dawn has been covering the march and government actions [Dawn coverage], including the ongoing detentions of opposition figures and supporters as well as the progress of the march towards Islamabad. Some protesters have been prevented from leaving Karachi [AFP report] by government forces, who have used force [NYT report] to break up the march and stop the political protest. Lawyers' movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan [JURIST news archive] told Dawn that the movement and the march would only be inspired to greater opposition [Dawn report] by the government response.

The current long march is similar to last year's demonstrations against the regime of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive]. The march comes as Pakistan teeters on the edge of political instability following last month's Supreme Court of Pakistan ruling that barred Sharif [JURIST report] from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction. The Supreme Court's controversial decision followed continued turmoil over the country's judiciary, which has split the PML-N and Zardari's PPP, formerly coalition partners [JURIST report]. Sharif and the PML-N have urged the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], ousted after then-president Musharraf declared emergency rule in November 2007. Chaudhry, supported by many members of Pakistan's bar, insists he is still chief justice [JURIST report] under the Pakistani constitution [text].

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