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In Pakistan, protesters stream into the capital in support of ousted judges

Tens of thousands are pressuring the government to reinstate the judges, who were dismissed under President Musharraf.

By Shahan MuftiCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 14, 2008

Lahore, Pakistan

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's problems have reappeared right where they first began more than a year ago: in the streets.

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Follow a precarious period that saw martial law, Mr. Musharraf's resignation as Army chief, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a general election, and months of political maneuvering, tens of thousands of protesters from across Pakistan, led by prominent lawyers and political leaders, arrived in Islamabad Friday to again demand that the judges of the Supreme Court, whom Musharraf dismissed last year, be restored.

A return of the sacked judges threatens to bring down Musharraf, who has been unsuccessful at consolidating his rule as a civilian president after quitting his Army post last November. At the time of their dismissal, the judges were poised to declare Musharraf's rule unconstitutional. But the president isn't the only one feeling the heat from the street demonstrations. The new government, which won the recent election in part on promises of reinstating the judges, is also under pressure to deliver.

"In the preelection scenario, getting rid of Musharraf was the focus of the movement, and the restoration [of judges] was being demanded of him as well," explains Khalid Rahman, director general of the Institute for Policy Studies, a policy think tank in Islamabad. "In the post-election scenario, the target remains President Musharraf – people still want him out – but the movement is now pressuring the new parliament to fix the problem."

The lawyers' rally comes four months after a general election in which Musharraf's loyalists were swept out of the legislature and the late Mrs. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party formed a shaky coalition government under a hostile Musharraf. The demonstration, which the local media has dubbed an epic sounding "long march," started in the port city of Karachi on the Arabian Sea and reached the capital, almost 1,000 miles to the north in the foothills of the Himalayas, after five days. The motor caravan pulled in several thousand people en route despite summer temperatures that reached 120 degrees F. at some points. Local media estimated at least 50,000 demonstrators were entering Islamabad on Friday afternoon.