Feb 25, 2009

Sharif supporters rally against Pakistan government

Hundreds of people chanting slogans against the government protested across Pakistan on Wednesday after the Supreme Court barred the main opposition leader and ex-premier Nawaz Sharif from office, AFP reported.

Several political leaders expressed fears the verdict could destabilise the central government and have a negative impact on the troubled region.

The Supreme Court dismissed appeals against a lower court ruling that Sharif and his brother were ineligible for election, senior lawyer Akram Sheikh told reporters outside the court.

A court in the eastern city of Lahore ruled last June that Nawaz Sharif, ousted by former president Pervez Musharraf in a 1999 coup, was disqualified from standing in a by-election because of previous criminal convictions.

An angry mob of some 800 people gathered on the main Mall Road in Lahore, blocking traffic by burning tyres and chanting slogans against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Witnesses said the crowd, including women supporters, attacked banners of the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party and tore down hoardings carrying pictures of the president, prime minister and the provincial governor.

Similar protests were held in the central town of Multan and more than a dozen other cities and towns in Punjab, Pakistan’s political heartland.

Hundreds of people in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, backed by lawyers, staged a protest in the state capital Muzaffarabad.

‘We reject illegal courts,’ they chanted along with ‘Zardari’s judiciary is unacceptable.’ Lawyers in Kashmir announced a court boycott for Thursday.

Party workers in the southwestern city of Quetta staged a rally where the local leader of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Ayaz Swati said the ‘government will now face a very strong public reaction.’Amanullah Baloch, president of the lawyers association in Quetta said Sharif was ‘being punished for demanding independent judiciary.’ Lawyers express ‘complete solidarity’ and ‘fully back his struggle,’ he told a news conference.

Wednesday’s court order will force Shahbaz Sharif, who is chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, to step down and resign from the provincial parliament.

Nawaz Sharif does not currently sit in any parliament but his party played a key role in beating Musharraf’s allies in elections in February 2008.

‘I am very sad over this verdict,’ top Pakistani jurist S.M. Zafar told the private Geo television.

‘The Sharif brothers are two top political leaders and the verdict means they can never become member of any legislature, Zafar said.

‘I have never seen such a verdict in my career,’ he added.

‘What has happened should not have happened,’ veteran politician and leader of the secular Awami National Party, Asfandyar Wali, said.

‘We badly need national reconciliation today. This (judgement) is not good for the country and not good for this region,’ he said.

‘The verdict will destabilise not only Punjab government but the federal government also,’ another political leader Nawabzada Mansoor Khan said.

‘The decision was according to our expectation,’ Javed Hashmi, the vice-president of PML-N told reporters in Multan.

‘His disqualification will end politics of sobriety,’ he said, warning that the government was courting downfall.

Punjab PPP president Qasim Zia, however refused to comment.

‘This is a court verdict and we cannot say anything,’ he said.

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