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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 13:26 GMT
Pakistan panel quizzes top judge
Iftikhar Chaudhry arrives at the Supreme Court

Pakistan's top judge has appeared before a closed hearing of senior judges investigating allegations that he misused his authority.

President Pervez Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on Friday.

Lawyers have boycotted courts across Pakistan in protest against what they say is an unlawful suspension.

The judge is noted for his firm line on government misdeeds and human rights abuses in the country.

They are absolutely useless allegations... I am not going to resign
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry

The panel of judges, the Supreme Judicial Council, has ordered the media not to try to report or comment on the hearing against Mr Chaudhry, Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani told the BBC's Urdu service on Tuesday.

The day's proceedings began in confusion when Mr Chaudhry refused to take the official car sent to take him to the hearing at the Supreme Court but started walking there.

He was stopped by police and taken to another official building before being forced into a car and taken to the court buildings.

Some 200 lawyers supporting Mr Chaudhry managed to reach the Supreme Court despite tight security, chanting slogans against the president such as "Go Musharraf, go."

The chief justice told those outside the court that he planned to fight the charges levelled against him.

"They are absolutely useless allegations," he told an Associated Press reporter as he entered the building. "I am not going to resign."

The hearing lasted two hours and was adjourned until Friday.

The lawyers are demanding that the hearings be made open to the public. They were later joined by opposition politicians.

Mr Chaudhry has also issued a four-page document to the press denouncing the moves against him.

It says that neither President Musharraf nor the Supreme Judicial Council had the authority to stop him from working. He also said his phones and TV at home had been disconnected and vehicles confiscated.

Tensions

Pakistan's Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on Monday reprimanded TV channels for showing live footage of protests by lawyers' supporting Mr Chaudhry.

Two channels, Aaj and Geo, were forced off air for some time. When their signals were restored, they did not show any of the same footage again.

Thousands of lawyers took part in Monday's protests.

Lawyers in Islamabad carried black flags to courthouses, and hundreds more marched in Karachi, Quetta and Lahore, where more than 20 were injured in clashes with police.

Lawyers burn poster combining heads of Presidents Musharraf and Bush

Correspondents say many people believe the chief justice was suspended because he took up cases unpopular with the government.

These include investigations into the highly sensitive issue of the disappearance of political activists allegedly detained illegally by the security forces.

Iftikhar Chaudhry also overturned the recent sale of Pakistan's state-run steel mills.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says Monday's clashes in Lahore reflect growing tension in the country since Gen Musharraf removed the chief justice from his post.

The president had received "numerous complaints and serious allegations for misconduct, misuse of authority and actions prejudicial to the dignity of office of the chief justice of Pakistan", the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.

Lawyers, opposition parties, human rights activists and some judges have condemned the move as unconstitutional and a blow to the independence of the judiciary.

The government has so far not made public details of the allegations.

Our correspondent says the chief justice had an abrasive style and had earlier been publicly criticised by a lawyer for abusing his authority.

Critics say the president is trying to intimidate the judiciary in an election year.

Only a few visitors have been allowed in to see Mr Chaudhry since he was suspended.




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