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Pakistani government limits protests

Pakistani government limits protests

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The government banned demonstrations in Pakistan's capital Friday, the latest effort to quell mounting political turmoil over President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to suspend the chief justice.

Thousands of Pakistanis have joined a series of protests since the March 9 ouster of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, accusing Musharraf of trying to sideline the independent-minded judge before elections this year. Riots erupted last month when authorities stopped Chaudhry from leading a demonstration in the city of Karachi, leaving more than 40 people dead.

Musharraf, facing his deepest political crisis since taking power in a 1999 coup, emerged from a meeting with top military officers Friday with a strong reaffirmation of their support.

The military denounced a "malicious campaign" against the government "by vested interests and opportunists who were acting as obstructionist forces to serve their personal interests and agenda even at the cost of flouting the rule of law." It said Musharraf assured the military that nobody would be able to destabilize Pakistan.

The two-month ban forces people to seek permission before organizing any political gathering of more than five people. The announcement came a day before Chaudhry planned to lead a procession from Islamabad to the city of Abbotabad.

"We have imposed a ban on rallies in Islamabad. A notification about it has been issued, and this step has been taken to ensure peace and avoid any inconvenience to the general public," said Mohammed Ali, Islamabad's deputy chief of administration.

But he said there were no immediate plans to stop Chaudhry's procession, and a lawyer for the ousted judge said it would go forward.

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