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Pakistan Supreme Court suspends Chaudhry hearing

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] Monday adjourned the hearing of petitions filed by suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive; BBC backgrounder] after Justice Falak Sher, one of the fourteen justices on the Supreme Court, objected to the presence of more junior judges on the high court panel [JURIST report] hearing the case and refused to participate. Tarqid Mehmood, a lawyer for Chaudhry, told Reuters that the panel would be "reconstituted" on Tuesday at the earliest. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear several petitions en banc concerning the construction of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) [governing constitutional provisions] which initially heard [JURIST report] the government's disciplinary case against Chaudhry. The SJC has been characterized as being biased and formed in an unconstitutional manner. Also Monday, unidentified gunmen killed Supreme Court Additional Registrar Syed Hamid Raza, only hours before the court was scheduled to begin its session. Reuters has more. AFP has additional coverage.

Chaudhry had scheduled a visit to Karachi this weekend to address a meeting of lawyers supporting him, but was unable to leave the airport due to the escalation of violence [JURIST report] Saturday between what has been characterized as pro-government Urdu-speaking Mohajir and anti-government Pashtu fractions that left more than 150 wounded and 41 dead. On Monday, opposition leaders held a general strike in Karachi and other cities to protest the violence, which government security forces allegedly allowed to take place. Following the weekend violence, Pakistan's Interior Ministry banned gatherings of over five people in Karachi, dispatched an additional 3,000 paramilitaries and has ordered security forces to shoot rioters on sight. AFP has more. AP has additional coverage.

Pakistan's judicial crisis stems from a March 9 order by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [official profile] that suspended Chaudhry for unspecified reasons that were later disclosed to suggest Chaudhry had been misusing his influence [JURIST reports] to get his son jobs and promotions. Critics, including many lawyers and opposition leaders, consider the suspension an assault on the independence of Pakistan's judiciary and an indirect bid by Musharraf to continue his eight-year rule before elections scheduled for later this year.

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