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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 May 2007, 21:04 GMT 22:04 UK
Veiled warning on Musharraf rule
Mr Chaudhry surrounded by lawyers in Islamabad
Observers say Mr Chaudhry offers an alternative to military rule
Pakistan's suspended top judge has addressed thousands of supporters at Islamabad's Supreme Court, making a veiled attack on President Musharraf.

Ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said it was vital to maintain the separation of branches of political power.

His last planned address in the city of Karachi earlier in May was cancelled after his visit led to street violence which left at least 41 dead.

President Musharraf has faced a backlash over Mr Chaudhry's dismissal.

Though he did not refer to the president by name, Mr Chaudhry said it was wrong for too much power to be wielded by one figure. Mr Musharraf is not only president, but head of the armed forces.

'Go, Musharraf, go'

During the seminar, he told the audience: "The courts must be independent. Courts should remain free from the pressure of the executive.

"Abuse of power often occurs in a system of governance where there is centralisation of all power in one person or in one institution and that is dangerous."

Several thousand of Mr Chaudhry's supporters were with him, some chanting "Go, Musharraf, go". The former chief justice had been surrounded by supporters on the 5km journey from his home to the court, and took more than two hours to get there.

The BBC's Barbara Plett says many of those taking part carried torches as night had fallen, and that the atmosphere was festive and vibrant. There was little sign of police, she adds.

The procession was led by lawyers and opposition parties, but also included ordinary citizens angry over recent deaths in Karachi, our correspondent says.

Injured man in Karachi
At least 41 died in the Karachi violence
Opposition parties had been planning a mass rally in Karachi on 12 May in support of Mr Chaudhry when violence broke out.

Mr Chaudhry was suspended by Gen Musharraf in March and denies claims he abused his office.

The president is accused of trying to stifle the independence of the judiciary in an election year, and protests over the judge have snowballed into a campaign against the government.

The speech to the Supreme Court Bar Association in Islamabad appeared to be an answer to the Karachi mayhem, a way of demonstrating that the opposition movement would not be intimidated, our correspondent says.

Observers have said Mr Chaudhry is offering an alternative to Pakistan's military rule, with an independent judiciary and a return to civilian government.

Iftikhar Chaudhry on the perils of absolute power

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