ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Thousands of lawyers boycotted courts across Pakistan yesterday, hoisting black flags and staging rallies to demand an end to emergency rule, and police blocked former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from marching to the heavily guarded home of the deposed Supreme Court chief justice.
Riot police turned out en masse and blocked the route to the official residence of Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry with concrete and steel barriers and barbed wire. Sharif led his followers to the blockade and addressed them briefly before they dispersed peacefully, defusing a potential showdown.
Chaudhry has been under house arrest since Nov. 3, when President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency and dismissed most of the Supreme Court justices just before they were to rule on the validity of his October reelection by a parliament controlled by his supporters.
Musharraf has since stacked the court with loyalists, who promptly dismissed all complaints against the former general's election.
Representatives of his two biggest rivals - Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, former prime ministers and longtime political foes - announced they had finished work on a list of 15 demands for the government to ensure their participation in Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.
They would not specify the demands, but they are expected to include restoration of an independent judiciary and the constitution and creation of a neutral caretaker government and an independent election commission.
Speaking to his supporters outside Chaudhry's home, Sharif vowed to continue pressing for reinstatement of the deposed chief justice and other judges.
"I want to tell the nation that past dictators were also used to ousting prime ministers, arresting them from their houses, and hanging even one of them," said Sharif, who was ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 coup and returned from exile 10 days ago.
"Now a dictator has attacked the judiciary, and if the nation today ignores these actions of a dictator, history will not forgive it."
Lawyers, who have called Musharraf's moves an attack on the judiciary's independence, boycotted court proceedings in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, Karachi and elsewhere. Several lawyers and police were injured in scuffles at a rally in the central city of Multan, witnesses said.
Bhutto said her party might call for antigovernment protests if the elections are rigged. "Either the elections will be fair and the people will get their own parliament, or if elections are not fair, then the movement will start," she told reporters.
Bhutto reiterated that her party would take part in the campaign but reserved the right to pull out later.