Dancing and weeping with joy, supporters of Pakistan’s main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif showered him with rose petals Monday after the government moved to defuse a raging crisis.
A day after running street battles with police, the mood turned to one of celebration outside the house in Punjab province where Sharif spent the night ahead of a planned mass protest march on the capital Islamabad.
The reason was a government climbdown as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced it would reinstate the nation’s top judge, who was sacked in 2007, and end a crackdown on the opposition.
‘For me this day is as historic and grand as the day when our country won independence from the British,’ said 50-year-old Saeed Hasan, wearing a white shalway kameez, a traditional Pakistani dress.
Sharif, Pakistan’s most popular politician, quickly called off the protest march which the government had previously banned.
His car was stranded in a sea of well-wishers who coated its roof in pink rose petals and pressed against the vehicle, straining to catch a glimpse of their hero in the front seat talking to television stations.
Delighted lawyers, activists and political opponents danced to the beat of drums, waving party flags and punching the air in delight.
‘I am happier than when my children were born,’ said local businessman and 27-year-old father Shafqat Mehmood.
‘An independent judiciary means our country is now in safe hands.’ Activists and supporters chanted praise to Allah and hailed Sharif and the judiciary, flashing signs of V for victory.
The dispute over the reinstatement of deposed Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and scores of other judges brought the nuclear-armed nation to the brink of chaos.
They were deposed by Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s then military ruler, in 2007, but were not reinstated by Asif Ali Zardari -- despite his promises -- when he took office as president last year.
In Islamabad, hundreds thronged outside Chaudhry’s residence, hugging each other, dancing and reciting revolutionary poetry.
A huge cheer roared through the compound when Gilani made his announcement.‘Long live Chaudhry, long live the judiciary,’ they screamed.
‘It is a new beginning,’ said Mohammad Sharif, an activist who travelled to Islamabad from the southern port city of Karachi. ‘Pakistan has started giving birth to revolution.’ Sadia Azmat, a teacher from Lahore, capital of Sharif’s Punjab power base, was stunned to realise there were no more police stopping her from getting to Chaudhry’s home.
‘What a moment we have been witness to. I'll never forget it in my life,’ she proclaimed.
As they celebrated, authorities began dismantling the barricades which had been erected to block lawyers and opposition supporters from marching on the capital.Lawyers in the northwestern city of Peshawar gathered in courts where they danced and distributed sweets, witnesses said.