HUNDREDS of Pakistani lawyers rallied across the nation to protest against President Asif Ali Zardari after he confronted with the Supreme Court, in a dispute which could plunge the nation into deep crisis.
The rift between the fragile government and influential judiciary erupted Saturday when Zardari appointed two senior judges but the Supreme Court said it had not been consulted and suspended his appointments.
The showdown threatens Zardari's weak government at a time of mounting US pressure on the nuclear-armed country to eliminate Taliban viewed as the main resistance in US occupation of Afghanistan and aggravating the attack on occupying forces.
Lawyers on Monday boycotted court proceedings and protested in the capital Islamabad and other cities including Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta as part of a strike called by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA).
In Lahore, about 300 lawyers marched to the Punjab assembly building, where they burnt tyres and chanted, "Go, Zardari, Go!", lawyers' representatives and witnesses said.
SCBA president Qazi Anwar said they planned to hold protests until Thursday, when the Supreme Court has summoned the attorney general and will consider whether Zardari's actions were in violation of the constitution.
Outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, about 100 people gathered and chanted anti-Zardari slogans. In Peshawar, about 100 lawyers took part in the boycott and pledged solidarity with Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Peshawar bar president S.M. Atiq Shah said.
Lawyers in Quetta also boycotted the courts, where local bar chief Baz Muhammad Karar vowed to "render every sacrifice for independence of judiciary", he told AFP.
Zardari on Saturday elevated Lahore's top judge Khawaja Sharif to the Supreme Court and named Saqib Nisar to replace him. Chaudhry had instead recommended Nisar for the Supreme Court seat.
Tensions between the government and judiciary have simmered since Zardari was elected in 2008 and dithered over a promise to reinstate Chaudhry, who was sacked in 2007 by then military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
Zardari finally reinstated the independent-minded Chaudhry last March on the eve of a planned mass protest in Islamabad. Then on December 16, the Supreme Court abolished a decree protecting Zardari and other government figures from prosecution, exposing the president to the possibility of having his immunity and eligibility for office challenged.