Lawyers in Pakistan begin four-day march to capital

Lawyers shout slogans Thursday in Karachi on the eve of a march to Islamabad.
Hundreds of lawyers and their supporters boarded buses in Karachi that will carry them to the capital, Islamabad, where they will demand that the government immediately restore judges that the previous president ousted.

The group, numbering from 300 to 500, will join thousands of other demonstrators who are also headed to the capital as part of a four-day “Long March.” The demonstrators plan a massive sit-in at the parliament building on Monday. “Our movement is a peaceful movement,” said organizer Rasheed Razvi, president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association. “When we protested the last time, there were hundreds of thousands of people and not one grass was broken, not one leaf was broken.” A heavy police presence blocked roads in Karachi to minimize disruptions to daily life, but otherwise stayed out of the demonstrators’ way. Authorities did not intend to make any arrests and were merely out in large numbers to keep traffic flowing, a police official said. The demonstrators began from the gates of the Sindh High Court, walking about five or six city blocks to a dozen buses that waited to ferry them to their next stop: the city of Hyderabad. “The rule of baton and bullets cannot last,” the protesters chanted.

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The lawyers want President Asif Ali Zardari to live up to a promise to reinstate judges sacked by then-President Pervez Musharraf. After sweeping into power in parliamentary elections last year, Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party promised to reinstate the judges within 30 days of taking office. The deadline came and went. The government responded by banning political demonstrations in two of the country’s biggest provinces — Punjab and Sindh. It also detained several hundred activists Wednesday. But the protesters said they will not be deterred. Their movement now, they said, isn’t so much about reinstating Chaudhry as it is about restoring the office of the chief justice. “We will start the long march from the province as we have promised the nation,” Razvi said. The country’s largest opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League – N (PML-N), has thrown its weight with the lawyers’ lot — but for reasons of its own. Party head Nawaz Sharif accuses Zardari of being behind a February Supreme Court decision that bars Sharif from holding public office. The court also stripped Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz, of his post as chief minister of Punjab — the Sharif party’s power center. Supporters of PML-N have responded by holding massive rallies, some of which have turned violent in recent days.