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Thousands Rally Against Pakistan's Leader

About 7,000 lawyers, journalists and opposition activists staged a sit-in protest in Pakistan, demanding President Gen. Pervez Musharraf step down for suspending a popular Supreme Court justice and clamping down on the media.

The demonstrators in the central city of Lahore shouted "Go, Musharraf, go!" while others taped their mouths shut to protest government alleged censorship.

The rally was the latest in a series in recent weeks against Musharraf, who critics say has become increasingly authoritarian as he seeks to extend his nearly eight

years in power with a new five-year presidential term scheduled to begin this fall.

Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, deposing then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The media have also been under pressure by the government since March, when Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry for alleged misconduct, triggering nationwide protests by lawyers and opposition parties.

Chaudhry has challenged his suspension before the Supreme Court, and private news channels have broadcast his rallies, showing tens of thousands of people chanting slogans against Musharraf.

Critics claim Musharraf has tried to sideline the independent-minded judge in case of any legal challenges to his bid to for a new presidential term. The government has denied any

political motive, with Musharraf saying he has evidence that Chaudhry abused his office.

A government lawyer claimed Thursday that the president was acting on a recommendation from Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to suspend Chaudhry.

The president's office had said Musharraf would make a televised address to the nation late Thursday, but arrangements for the taping were later canceled without explanation.

From the Associated Press

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