Pakistan Demonstrators Storm Court
Nov. 28, 1997
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Thousands of demonstrators stormed the Supreme Court today, forcing a chief justice to adjourn a contempt of court case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
If found guilty, Sharif could be removed from power.
Protesters shouted slogans against Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, who is locked in a bitter power struggle with Sharif, and broke through the gates, surging past 200 unarmed policemen.
Before they could force their way into the courtroom, Shah adjourned the hearing as police tried to restore calm. No new date was set.
The demonstration appeared to be led by the youth wing of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League and included several lawmakers, witnesses said. Youths screaming ``Sajjad is the killer of democracy'' set off firecrackers on the sprawling grounds outside the white marble courthouse.
``We have come here to protest the behavior of the chief justice and what he is doing to Nawaz Sharif,'' said Mukhtar Ahmed, a student from Sharif's hometown of Lahore.
The quarrel between the prime minister and chief justice began several months ago over the appointment of five new judges to the Supreme Court. Shah and Sharif argued over who should be appointed.
Shah won but not before he resurrected corruption charges against Sharif and suspended a constitutional amendment that outlawed lawmakers from voting against their party on legislation.
Sharif publicly criticized Shah's decision to suspend that amendment, which resulted in a contempt of court charge. In Pakistan, it is a crime to publicly criticize the judiciary.
Earlier today in Peshawar, about 120 miles west of Islamabad, two Supreme Court judges held a hearing and ordered the president and prime minister to remove Shah. They said the chief justice ignored their order that he step down, issued the previous day.
Constitutional lawyers were divided over whether the Supreme Court justices, Saeeduzaman Saddiqi and Sadal Fazle Elahi Khan, had the authority to force Shah's removal. Each of Pakistan's four provinces has a Supreme Court bench. It's unclear what authority they have to suspend the chief justice.
Shah's opponents on the bench have ordered him suspended until a full Supreme Court bench can hear accusations that he was promoted out of turn, ahead of more senior judges.
On another front, Shah's protracted and increasingly bitter power struggle with the prime minister has paralyzed the country and thrown Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jehangir Karamat into the role of mediator, unusual in a country run by military dictators for 25 years of its 50-year history.
The relentless bickering between Sharif and Shah also has entangled President Farooq Ahmed Leghari, who reportedly has refused repeated requests from Parliament to suspend Shah, which he has the legal authority to do.
Karamat has shuttled between the feuding parties to try to find a compromise.