ISLAMABAD, June 11 (Reuters) - Authorities stepped up
security in the Pakistani capital on Wednesday as lawyers
opposed to President Pervez Musharraf prepared to begin a
cross-country rally to press for the restoration of judges he
Lawyers have been at the forefront of a campaign against
staunch U.S. ally Musharraf since he tried to dismiss the chief
justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry, last year.
Chaudhry and dozens of other judges were purged after
Musharraf declared emergency rule in November.
The rally, dubbed a "long march" even though the lawyers
will travel in a motor convoy, will set off from the
southeastern city of Multan on Wednesday and is due to reach
Islamabad on Friday.
The protest will ramp up pressure on Musharraf to step
down. He has been isolated since his allies were trounced in a
February election and opponents are demanding he quit and face
It is also a challenge to the two-month-old coalition
government led by the party of slain former prime minister
Benazir Bhutto and a threat to the coalition's tenuous unity.
The second biggest party in the coalition, led by another
former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, say Bhutto's party has
been dragging its feet on the restoration of the sacked judges
and it is supporting the lawyers' protest.
Sharif flew back from a visit to London on Wednesday to
take part in the protest.
"This is a national cause and we are fully participating in
this cause. The future of Pakistan depends on the restoration
of the judiciary," Sharif told reporters at Islamabad airport.
Chaudhry, who spent nearly four months under house arrest
after he was purged, is due to address the rally in Multan.
Both sides have vowed to keep the peace, with the
government saying the lawyers have the right to protest. But in
a nuclear-armed country plagued by militant bombings and other
violence, trouble can not be ruled out.
Sixteen people were killed in a bomb attack on a lawyers'
protest rally in Islamabad in July last year.
Pakistani stocks, rattled by political worries recently,
were higher ahead of a budget announcement later in the day.
"PARLIAMENT IS THE HURDLE"
Authorities in the capital have placed shipping containers
across a main road leading to parliament and blocked other
roads with barbed wire barricades. More shipping containers are
at the ready on side roads.
Paramilitary troops have been deployed at government
buildings near parliament, where lawyers plan to stage a
Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar
Association and leader of the lawyers' movement, said their aim
was to put pressure on parliament to restore the judges without
"Pervez Musharraf is no longer a problem ... Our demand is
with parliament. Parliament is now the hurdle in restoring the
judges," Ahsan told reporters late on Tuesday.
Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who has led her party
since her assassination in December, says he wants the judges
restored through constitutional changes, but these might take
months to introduce.
Sharif and the lawyers' movement want the judges restored
immediately through a parliamentary resolution.
Analysts say, if reinstated, Chaudhry could take up legal
challenges to Musharraf's presidency that could lead to his
ouster. He might also review an amnesty that wiped out
corruption cases against Zardari and other Bhutto party
That, critics say, explains Zardari's foot-dragging.
The coalition partners are also divided on how to handle
Musharraf. Zardari says he does not recognise Musharraf as a
constitutional president and would reduce him to a figurehead
under the proposed constitutional changes.
Sharif, who then army chief Musharraf ousted in 1999, wants
Musharraf impeached and tried for treason.