Thousands of lawyers are protesting across Pakistan to demand the reinstatement of senior judges sacked last year.
Lawyers, along with civil society activists and some political parties, are converging on the city of Multan, the official starting point of the protest, named ‘the long march’.
They will be joined by deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry before moving to the capital, Islamabad, later this week.
At pre-march rallies in Karachi yesterday, protesters chanted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf, who dismissed the judges.
Sabihuddin Ahmed, the deposed chief justice of the high court in the southern province of Sindh, told marchers that it was an "historic day".
"Judges have come out to protect the country and the constitution," he said.
Lawyers at a similar protest outside the Multan District Courts hung an effigy of President Musharraf before beating it and setting it on fire. Security forces were present in large numbers, but no violence ensued.
The protest surrounds Musharraf dismissing dozens of judges in November when he imposed emergency rule. At the time he faced numerous legal challenges to stay on as president.
The move further enraged lawyers and political opponents already infuriated over his attempts to sack the Supreme Court chief justice Chaudhry in March last year.
Chaudhry has been a stalwart supporter of the rule of law and a critic of Musharraf since being appointed in 2005. This includes his having launched inquiries into the disappearance of suspected insurgents in the Balochistan province; outlawing child marriage and preventing the privatisation of a major steel company because of irregularities in the bidding process.
Lawyers clashed with police in the streets over his sacking, which was widely seen as an attack on judicial independence (The Lawyer, 16th April 2007)
The protests led to Chaudhry’s reinstatement last year (The Lawyer, 6th August 2007)