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Attack on Pak judge’s lawyer

Karachi, May 10 (Reuters): Gunmen in Karachi fired 16 shots at the house of a lawyer of Pakistan’s suspended top judge today, two days before the judge was due to visit the city, a government official said.

The government’s suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9 angered the judiciary and the Opposition has blown up into the most serious challenge to President Pervez Musharraf’s authority since he seized power in 1999.

The attack on the home of one of Chaudhry’s lawyers, Munir A. Malik, is bound to stoke tension. Malik said no one was hurt but two bullets hit a lounge where he and one of his daughters were sitting. “It’s a miracle that we are safe,” Malik . Deputy interior minister Zafar Warriach told parliament 16 shots were fired. Police were investigating and would catch the culprits soon, he said.

Malik, who is also president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said the attack was aimed at putting pressure on lawyers campaigning for Chaudhry’s reinstatement.

“I’m not afraid and this will not deter me from representing the chief justice,” he said. Lawyers in Karachi boycotted courts in protest against the attack. Chaudhry denies wrongdoing and has refused to resign. Lawyers and Opposition activists have held sporadic protests against the move to sack him.

This week, the supreme court set up a broad panel of judges to consider a legal challenge by Chaudhry against a judicial watchdog considering the government’s complaints against him. While the case makes its way through the courts, Chaudhry has been travelling around the country to speak to lawyers.

Last weekend, he attracted tens of thousands of supporters on a trip to Lahore, Pakistan’s political nerve centre, where he told a rally that states ignoring the rule of law and basic rights faced destruction. Karachi is the country’s business capital, and a stronghold of the pro-Musharraf Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

The MQM, the main party in the provincial government and a partner in the federal government, has called for a rally on the day of Chaudhry’s visit to protest over what it calls political tricks “in the name of the independence of the judiciary”.

The government of Sindh province, of which Karachi is capital, said in a letter to Chaudhry that tension was rising and there could be could be clashes.

“There are also intelligence reports that terrorist groups may take advantage of the environment to launch terrorist attacks,” the government said, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

Police said they had arrested at least 12 people last night who had been planning to sabotage Chaudhry's rally. But another of Chaudhry’s lawyers said the trip would go on.

The judicial crisis has erupted in the run-up to a general election and an anticipated attempt by Musharraf, an important US ally, to secure another term in office. Musharraf is due to seek re-election in September.

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