Ex-Pakistani chief judge expected to be freed this week

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is expected to be freed this week along with nine others held under house arrest.

Ex-Pakistani chief judge expected to be freed this week
A Pakistani judge who became a symbol of resistance to President Pervez Musharraf is expected to be freed this week along with nine others held under house arrest, according to the lawyer leading a movement for an independent judiciary.

The appointment of a new prime minister on Tuesday is expected to trigger the release of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the other judges who Musharraf has kept under detention since November.

"The dramatic event we are expecting in the next few days is the release of the chief justice," Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Council, said on Monday.

Parliament was poised to elect Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) nominee for the premiership, and he was expected to be sworn in by Musharraf on Tuesday. Musharraf purged the judiciary on Nov. 3 after imposing emergency rule to stop the Supreme Court declaring unconstitutional his own re-election by the outgoing parliament.

Emergency rule was lifted after six weeks, but the judges have remained under detention.

In an accord signed this month in Murree, a hill resort an hour's drive from Islamabad, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew, agreed to form a coalition government that would pass a resolution in parliament within 30 days to reinstate the judges.

Javed Hashmi, the vice president of Sharif's party, told a news conference the judges could be released as early as Tuesday.

"The new prime minister will be sworn in tomorrow (Tuesday) and the judges should also be freed tomorrow," Hashmi said.

Ahsan, a former PPP cabinet minister who was released from house arrest himself this month, told Reuters that Chaudhry is not seeking a confrontation with President Musharraf.

"Won't storm court"

Once he was freed, Chaudhry would not march down to the Supreme Court to evict the judges Musharraf appointed.

"There will be no storming of the Supreme Court," Ahsan said. "We don't want to embarrass the parliamentarians who signed the Murree Declaration."

Once freed, Chaudhry will probably address lawyers' associations around the country to demonstrate the public support for the judges who stood up against a military president.

Chaudhry is assured a hero's welcome by the black-coated lawyers who took to the streets to champion his cause and repeatedly clashed with police as they chanted "Go Musharraf Go".

A year ago, backed by several intelligence agency chiefs, Musharraf accused Chaudhry of misusing his status, and influence for personal benefit.

Critics believe Chaudhry fell out of favour for ruling against the government over the privatisation of a steel firm and for calling on intelligence agencies to account for people who had disappeared in a counter-terrorism campaign.

There was also a suspicion that Chaudhry could have proved an obstacle to Musharraf's plans to force through his re-election.

Chaudhry's refusal to quit resulted in the biggest challenge to Musharraf's authority since he came to power as a general in a coup in 1999.

The Supreme Court's reinstatement of the suspended Chaudhry on July 20 represented the first major defeat for Musharraf, and ultimately led to the president's fateful decision to impose emergency rule, a measure condemned at home and abroad.

The defeat of pro-Musharraf parties in a parliamentary election on Feb. 18 was the second body blow to the president.

Speculation abounds that Musharraf will be forced out of power within the year, though some analysts and diplomats believe it could be a matter of weeks.

Reuters
Last Mod: 24 Mart 2008, 13:03
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