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Pakistan police arrest lawyers, opposition leaders ahead of protest

[JURIST] Pakistan [JURIST news archive] government forces conducted raids and arrested opposition members, including members of the country's lawyers' movement [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive], prior to a protest rally led Wednesday by former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] leader Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Among those targeted Tuesday night were lawyers' movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan [Dawn TV report] and Imran Khan, founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) [party website]. Following the raids, many opposition politicians and party leaders - including Khan, who avoided arrest - went into hiding [PTI press release]. At Wednesday's rally, Sharif had harsh words [Daily Times report] for Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], calling on supporters of the opposition parties to take to the streets [PML-N press release] with the party and the lawyers' movement in a march to the capital, reminiscent of the long march [JURIST news archive] held last summer. Sharif also equated the movements of the Zardari government against opposition members with the conduct of former president and military ruler Pervez Musharraf [JURIST news archive].

The arrests and rally come 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 Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [party website], 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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