Ousted Pakistan judge attacks dictatorships

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Pakistan's suspended chief justice has warned that dictatorships which ignore the rule of law face destruction.

The remarks by ousted judge Iftikhar Chaudhry are being viewed as an indirect attack on the regime of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who sacked the head of the country's supreme court in March amid allegations that he had abused his position.

Speaking from Lahore, Pakistan's legal and political nerve centre, Mr Chaudhry told thousands of supporters that nations which ignored constitutional laws and human rights would "pay a price".

Although he made no direct reference to Mr Musharraf or his government in today's speech, commentators say the campaign instigated by Mr Chaudhry in response to his sacking has transformed into a wider protest against Pakistan's military regime and represents the most serious challenge to the rule of Mr Musharraf since he seized power in a 1999 coup.

Addressing lawyers and judges from within Lahore's high court compound and thousands of opposition activists gathered outside the building, Mr Chaudhry warned: "Nations and states which are based on dictatorship instead of the supremacy of the constitution, the rule of law and protection of basic rights get destroyed."

"The idea of dictatorship and collective responsibility are over," he added.

"They are chapters from the past and those nations which don't learn lessons from the past and repeat those mistakes, they have to pay a price."

Today's rally in Lahore is one of a series that have been held in Pakistan since Mr Chaudhry was sacked on March 9th, amid claims that he had illegally used his role as the country's top judge to try and secure a leading job in the police force for his son.

The country's former chief justice took 24 hours to make the usual four-hour journey from the capital Islamabad to Lahore for today's protest, with thousands of supporters having slowed the progress of his motorcade by throwing rose petals at his party in support of his campaign to protect the independence of the judiciary.

A panel of judges from Pakistan's supreme court is currently considering his case.

Critics of President Musharraf claim that he sacked Mr Chaudhry ahead of potential legal challenges to his continued rule, but the Pakistani leader yesterday warned lawyers against politicising the removal of the country's former chief judge.

Addressing a public rally in the desert area of Tharparkar, Mr Musharraf said: "It's purely a constitutional and judicial matter and let the supreme judicial council decide the issue according to the constitution."

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