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Page last updated at 21:43 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 22:43 UK

Mass rally for Pakistani judges

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Pakistani lawyers are on the last leg of their nationwide protest

Thousands of protesters have gathered outside Pakistan's parliament to demand the government reinstate judges fired last year by President Musharraf.

The protesters' convoy of several hundred buses began earlier this week and finally rolled up to parliament at 0200 on Saturday (2000 GMT Friday).

The crowds milled close to the floodlit parliament building awaiting speeches by senior lawyers.

Mr Musharraf dismissed the judges in November when imposing emergency rule.

After they won elections in February, both the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) promised to restore the judges.

But they are split on the mechanics of how this should be done.

'Musharraf's last days'

Police expected the protest to swell to between 40,000 and 50,000 people.

Barricades have been set up around the presidency and parliament buildings and extra security forces brought into the capital.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says the authorities are nervous about potential violence.

Parliament must now respect the sentiments of people, the people have spoken and they want the restoration of the judges
Lawyers' leader Aitzaz Ahsan

But neither side wants trouble and they have reached agreement on a designated route through the city, our correspondent says.

The convoy travelled from the city of Lahore on the last leg of the nationwide protest.

The "long march" - as it has been dubbed - has passed through different towns and cities on its way to the capital.

Several thousand lawyers have been joined in the capital by a much larger number of activists, most of them supporters of the PML-N.

Protesters were showered with rose petals as they passed through the city of Jhelum en route to Rawalpindi and the capital.

"These are Musharraf's last days," leading lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan told the crowd.

"We are out in the streets to save Pakistan."

Pakistan's deposed Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, and Nawaz Sharif are expected to address the protesters.

Parties split

President Musharraf dismissed dozens of judges, including the Supreme Court chief justice, in November when he imposed emergency rule. At the time he faced numerous legal challenges to his staying on for another term.

Protesting lawyers on their way to Islamabad from Karachi
The lawyers' convoy includes hundreds of buses and cars

The move further enraged lawyers and his political opponents, who were already infuriated over his attempts earlier in the year to sack Mr Chaudhry.

The PML-N now argues that the judges should be reappointed by an executive order from the prime minister.

But the PPP wants to link any reinstatement to a major package of constitutional reforms.

The differences led Mr Sharif to withdraw his ministers from the cabinet last month, although his party still supports the coalition government.

The two parties also appear to differ over how to deal with President Musharraf.

Mr Sharif has called for his removal and trial for treason, but the PPP appears wary of a confrontation with the president, who has insisted that he has no plans to resign.

Before the judges were sacked, the Supreme Court was also due to rule on the legality of an amnesty President Musharraf granted former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, then the PPP leader, and her husband Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr Sharif was granted no such amnesty.


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