Aitzaz Ahsan Returns...

Pakistan's anti-Musharraf lawyer slams US, Britain
March 6, 2008

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AFP) — A firebrand Pakistani lawyer leading a movement against President Pervez Musharraf urged the United States and Britain Thursday to end their support for the "war on terror" ally.

Aitzaz Ahsan, who was released from house arrest last week after being held since emergency rule was imposed in November, was speaking to a rally of 500 black-suited attorneys at a court in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

"I am at a loss to understand why the US and UK are trying to stitch together alliances to save Pervez Musharraf," Ahsan, the head of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association and a former minister, told the crowd.

He said Washington and London were trying to ensure the political survival of Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, after the president's allies suffered a heavy defeat in last month's elections.

"He is no longer the army chief, he has been rejected by his own people, he is the most unpopular and hated person," Ahsan said.

Musharraf has been backed by US President George W. Bush since abandoning Pakistan's support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The lawyer accused the United States and Britain of "condoning" the detention of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whom Musharraf ousted in November under the state of emergency.

Addressing the two Western nations directly, he said: "You people are fighting a 'war on terror' and should therefore know that the most effective weapon in such a war is empowered people with enforceable rights."

Earlier, more than 2,000 lawyers rallied in the eastern city of Lahore to press their demands for the reinstatement of the scores of judges sacked by Musharraf.

The lawyers, joined by civil society activists and workers of both religious and secular opposition parties, including former cricket hero Imran Khan's, chanted slogans including "Go Musharraf, go!"

"Our struggle will continue for the restoration of an independent judiciary and reinstatement of the judges," read a large banner carried by the crowd as it came out of the High Court building and paraded on the main Mall Road.

Many carried portraits of Chaudhry.

Lawyers across Pakistan have held protests every Thursday since Musharraf fired the independent-minded Chaudhry and more than 60 other judges when it looked like the Supreme Court could overturn his victory in a presidential election the previous month.

Chaudhry became a pro-democracy icon when he fought back against Musharraf's initial attempt to oust him in March 2007 over allegations of misconduct and abuse of power.

Former premier Nawaz Sharif has been pressing for the release and reinstatement of Chaudhry and other deposed judges.

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