Another 5 Pakistani Judges Resign in Protest

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Five more Pakistani judges resigned Monday and hundreds of lawyers demonstrated against President General Pervez Musharraf's controversial removal of the country's chief justice, deepening the political mess now facing the military leader.

Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9 over unspecified allegations that he had abused his authority.

The move has sparked a nationwide lawyers' strike and angry protests by lawyers and opposition activists, drawing a forceful police response and hundreds of arrests.

Critics claim Musharraf, who serves concurrently as army chief and president, sought to remove the strong-willed judge ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections due within a year as legal challenges to his rule could have been brought to the Supreme Court. The government says the move was not politically motivated.

Five judges, however, submitted their resignations on Monday -- following a judge's resignation last week in protest over police manhandling of Chaudhry -- claiming that the government's actions against the chief justice had hurt the judiciary.

"I have waited a few days before addressing you, in the hope something will be done to remedy the harm done to the judicial organ of the state. It seems I have waited in vain," Lahore High Court Judge Jawad Khawaja said in a resignation letter sent to Musharraf on Monday. It was read to reporters by Khawaja's wife.

In Karachi, First Senior Civil Judge Ashraf Yar Khan told reporters that he was leaving his post because of "the present situation in the country" regarding the judiciary.

Two more civil judges resigned in Karachi and another in the southern town of Pano Aqil, a judicial official in Karachi said on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to the media.