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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 16:34 GMT
Confrontation in Pakistan deepens
Police and demonstrators fought with rocks and batons

Protesters in Pakistan have been defying security forces to rally in support of the suspended top judge in the Supreme Court.

Police in the capital, Islamabad, used tear gas against demonstrators and smashed equipment at a TV station showing the protests.

President Pervez Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry last week for abuse of office.

The judge's supporters say the move is aimed at muzzling the judge.

Mr Chaudhry has a reputation for independence and has challenged the government on several cases.

Barbed wire

Friday's violence in Islamabad began shortly before Mr Chaudhry made his second appearance before a tribunal at the Supreme Court.

Iftikhar Chaudhry arrives at the Supreme Court

There were similar protests when he appeared before the tribunal on Tuesday.

Hundreds of lawyers rallied on Friday outside the Supreme Court despite sweeping security restrictions. Security forces had blocked traffic and rolled barbed wire across roads leading up to the courthouse.

The lawyers were supported by high-profile opposition figures.

Clashes broke out and police detained a number of protesters. They included Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the leader of the hard-line Islamic coalition, the MMA, who was taken away in a police vehicle.

Also arrested was Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, another senior Islamic politician.

The police also moved in large numbers into the Islamabad offices of the private Geo TV station which, like other media outlets, has been defying government attempts to influence their coverage of the protests.

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Musharraf has achieved nothing but shame for the country
Ilyas Baloch, Pakistan

The police used long batons to smash glass, furniture and broadcast equipment.

Later President Musharraf apologised to Geo TV: "Such an incident should not have happened," he said in a live interview with Geo. "The culprits must be identified and punished today."

In Lahore, a former president, Rafique Tarar, was arrested as he led a demonstration.

On Thursday hundreds of opposition activists were detained in efforts to stop Friday's protest from going ahead.

'Triumphant'

Chief Justice Chaudhry denies charges of misconduct.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says he made a triumphal entry into the Supreme Court on Friday.

Plain-clothed policemen arrest Qazi Hussain Ahmed
Qazi Hussain Ahmed was arrested outside the court

Supporters surrounded his vehicle, and some rode on top of it through the gate.

They chanted slogans like "justice lead, we will follow". Many of the slogans were also aimed against President Musharraf for his decision to suspend Mr Chaudhry last Friday.

Gen Musharraf has accused protestors of politicising the issue and says he will abide by the decision of the judicial tribunal.

Our correspondent says that Mr Chaudhry's suspension seems to have become a rallying point for all those with grievances against the government.

Suspended

The media is facing further restrictions on its reporting. The broadcasting authority, Pemra, has banned Geo TV from showing one of its current affairs programmes.

Both Geo and another network, Aaj, have had their broadcasts suspended in recent days due to their coverage of the protests.

Pakistani lawyers protesting
The suspension has angered the legal community

Mr Chaudhry was suspended a week ago by President Musharraf after he 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 said.

Details of the charges have not been made public.

Lawyers say the judge's suspension is an assault on judicial independence.

They have been on strike all week over the issue in protest against the suspension.

The chief justice himself has vowed to fight his case, both to clear his name and to defend the independence of the judiciary.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Protesters clash with police outside the supreme court



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