ISLAMABAD, April 13: A large number of lawyers, politicians, political workers and social activists on Friday thronged the Constitution Avenue to express solidarity with Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry who appeared before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) for the fourth time since his suspension by President Gen Pervez Musharraf on March 9.

Heavy contingents of capital and Punjab police and Rangers were deployed at various places near the Supreme Court building but they did not stop the protesters from going to the Constitution Avenue. However, few roads leading to the SC were closed to traffic and people had to walk to the court.

Protesters burnt an effigy of President Musharraf in front of the main entrance to the SC building. Activists of PML-N also set tyres and other items on fire.

Earlier, Justice Iftikhar was warmly welcomed by lawyers and workers of political parties who raised full-throated slogans and showered rose petals when he reached there at about 10am.

Protesters, who had arrived there in small processions, remained outside the SC building for more than three hours and dispersed only when the chief justice left for his official residence.

During this time, the political activists and representatives of bar associations from various cities kept on chanting anti-government and anti-army slogans.

The protesting lawyers once again kept themselves at a distance from political parties. This time political activists outnumbered lawyers and overshadowed their protest.

Lawyers had come from cities like Abbottabad, Haripur, Mardan, Sahiwal, Gujranwala, Talagang, Chakwal and Attock.

Political parties held separate rallies and did not join each other. Some PML-N leaders and PTI chief Iran Khan, however, used the platform of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal for addressing protesters, but the leadership of the People’s Party Parliamentarians kept itself away from the MMA.

As on earlier occasions, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Maulana Fazlur Rehman attended the rally only for a short time and left after delivering a speech.

In their speeches, opposition leaders came hard on the army for interfering in political affairs and called for resignation of President Musharraf.

They announced to continue their struggle till the ouster of Gen Musharraf, even if the regime restored the chief justice.

Protesters were also carrying banners and placards inscribed with various slogans. One placard read: “Reduce the poor’s burden, reduce army by 80 per cent”. Another banner read: “India is a threat to Pakistan is a misconception. Poverty and unemployment are more serious threats to the country”. “Judiciary is superior to army. Get lost military dictator,” read a banner carried by some lawyers.

Some protesters also raised slogans against Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and government’s lawyers in the reference -- Wasim Sajjad and Khalid Ranjha.

Some opposition leaders told the protesters that the SJC had decided to hold an open trial of the chief justice and termed it a big success. MMA president Qazi Hussain Ahmed, acting parliamentary leader of the PML-N Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and PPP secretary-general Raja Pervez Ashraf were among those who confirmed that the SJC had announced its verdict in favour of an open trial.

Quoting the opposition leaders, almost all TV channels kept on running stories about the SJC decision. The news, however, turned out to be false.

Later, Chaudhry Nisar, who was the first person to announce the “SJC verdict” told Dawn that he had been informed about it by Qazi Hussain.

Prominent opposition leaders present were Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Tehmina Daultana, Ghulam Dastagir Khan, Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Mohammad Mehdi, Rana Mahmoodul Hassan, Maimoona Hashmi, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Raja Nadir Pervez of the PML-N; Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Yusuf Raza Gillani, Mir Baz Khetran, Farzana Raja, Chaudhry Manzoor, Naveed Qamar, Ramesh Lal, Enver Baig, Latif Khosa, Zamarrud Khan, Nargis Faiz Malik, Nayyar Bokhari and Malik Hakmin Khan of the PPP; and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri, Liaquat Baloch and Sirajul Haq of the MMA.

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