Pakistan's Sharif suggests Musharraf might be hanged

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -
Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif stepped up his attack on President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday, suggesting he could be hanged.

Sharif said the president must be held accountable for abrogating the constitution and the 1999 coup, when then army chief Musharraf ousted Sharif.

Sharif was allowed back from exile late last year as staunch U.S. ally Musharraf's power was ebbing following a clash with the judiciary. The two-time prime minister's party came second in a February election.

"We asked you to quit with honor after the election but you didn't," Sharif said in a speech to up to 15,000 protesters outside parliament, referring to Musharraf.

"Now people have given a new judgment for you ... they want you to be held accountable," he said, as the crowd shouted "hang Musharraf".

Sharif had previously called for Musharraf to be tried for treason for tearing up the constitution and his coup.

"Is hanging only for politicians?" asked Sharif, referring to former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hanged by a military dictator in 1979.

"These blood-sucking dictators must be held accountable."

Musharraf's popularity dived after he dismissed the country's then Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, last year, sparking months of turmoil which raised concern for the prospects of the nuclear-armed country on the front line of the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

Musharraf dismissed Chaudhry and dozens of other judges when he declared emergency rule in November to stop the Supreme Court ruling on whether his re-election while still army chief the previous month was legal.

Having secured the presidency, Musharraf quit as army chief and ended emergency rule in mid-December, but his actions left him increasingly isolated and unpopular.

RALLY

Musharraf's power has withered since the February general election when his allies were trounced and the mainstream pro-democracy parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Sharif won the most seats and formed a coalition.

Sharif backs a campaign by lawyers to have Chaudhry and other judges reinstated, and he was speaking at a rally outside parliament marking the climax of a cross-country motorcade protest by lawyers and activists as part of their campaign.

Security for the rally, which went on well past midnight on Friday, was tight and an avenue in front of the parliament was sealed off but there was no violence.

Lawyers mingled with flag-waving supporters of Sharif's party, conservative religious activists, rights workers and students on a wide road overlooking the National Assembly.

Unlike the beatings and tear-gas that protesting lawyers got from police under a pro-Musharraf government last year, the new government ordered police to assist this week's motorcade protest.

It began in the city of Multan on Wednesday and ended on Friday with hundreds of vehicles jamming into Islamabad.

Political parties backing the lawyers' movement hope Chaudhry's reinstatement will lead to Musharraf's ouster but Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who has led her party since she was assassinated in December, and Sharif have failed to agree on how the judges should be restored.

Frustrated with what they see as Zardari's foot-dragging, the lawyers launched their "long-march" motorcade in a challenge to Zardari, whose party is the biggest in parliament and leads the coalition.

(Additional reporting by Aftab Borka; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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