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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Pearl trial lawyers request new judge
Security outside the Karachi courthouse
The chief prosecutor says he fears for his life
Prosecution lawyers in the trial in Pakistan of the men accused of murdering US journalist Daniel Pearl have requested a new judge after complaining of intimidation and threats.


The accused are acting in an intimidating, abusive manner

Chief Prosecutor Raja Qureshi

Chief Prosecutor Raja Qureshi said he petitioned the High Court in the southern city of Karachi on Thursday to remove Judge Abdul Ghafoor Memon.

Mr Qureshi said he felt the judge was unable or unwilling to stop the defendants from making threatening gestures to himself and his witnesses.

All four defendants, including chief suspect Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism.

The trial was suspended on Thursday because the defence team observed a one-day lawyers' strike in protest at President Pervez Musharraf's national referendum to extend his presidency by five years.

'Intimidating'

Judge Memon is already the second judge in the trial, having replaced Arshad Noor Khan, who was removed after defence arguments that he was not impartial.

Speaking to reporters outside the makeshift courtroom at Karachi's Central Jail, Mr Qureshi told reporters a decision on replacing the judge would be made on Friday.

Judge Abdul Ghafoor Memon
Judge Memon is already the second judge in the trial

"The accused are acting in an intimidating, abusive manner and are beyond the control of the presiding judge," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Qureshi said on Wednesday that he feared for his life after defendants made "threatening gestures".

The trial has been hearing from the last people to see Mr Pearl disappeared in Karachi in January while researching Muslim extremism.

A video was later sent to US diplomats showing him being killed, but his body has yet to be found.

Two police officers have also testified that they heard Omar Sheikh admit his role in the kidnapping.

The previous judge was also present at the pre-trial hearing when Omar Sheikh made the comments, not under oath, which he later retracted.

The judge was replaced after the defence argued that the fact he had heard the comments had effectively made him a witness.

Lawyers' strike

According to AP, Mr Qureshi said he had five unidentified witnesses ready to testify, but they would have to wait until proceedings resumed on Friday after the one-day lawyers' stoppage.

Lawyer arrested at Karachi anti-referendum rally
Lawyers say the referendum is illegal

Reports said dozens of lawyers were arrested at a rally in Karachi held in protest at plans by General Musharraf to extend his presidency by another five years by holding a referendum, due on 30 April.

Opposition parties and lawyers' association have declared the vote unconstitutional and illegal.

Pakistan's Supreme Court has begun hearings to decide whether a planned referendum to extend President Pervez Musharraf's term of office is legal.

The opposition Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) is holding an all-party conference in Lahore on Friday to formalise its strategy against the referendum.

See also:

24 Apr 02 | South Asia
New evidence in Pearl case hearings
23 Apr 02 | South Asia
Pearl murder trial security fears
19 Apr 02 | South Asia
Pearl trial judge removed
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Chief suspect 'met dead US journalist'
05 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pearl case extradition 'possible'
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