Pakistan's Malik faces arrest bid, US presses for hundreds of visas

Pakistani authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the country's interior minister on corruption charges, following a supreme court ruling.

Pakistan's Malik faces arrest bid, US presses for hundreds of visas

A Pakistani court on Friday summoned Interior Minister Rehman Malik over corruption charges revived after a Supreme Court ruling scrapped a controversial amnesty, officials said.

Opposition politicians have been calling for President Asif Ali Zardari to step down since the Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out an amnesty that protected him, several government ministers and thousands of others from corruption charges.

Malik was one of a raft of politicians including Zardari protected by a 2007 amnesty, which the Supreme Court on Wednesday declared unconstitutional, reopening hundreds of old cases.

"The accountability court has summoned Rehman Malik and Agha Siraj Durrani. We have also reopened cases of 52 more people," said Salman Butt, deputy prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau in Sindh province.

Pakistan's constitution guarantees Zardari immunity, but also states that presidential candidates must be pious, honest and truthful and never have been convicted in a criminal case.

The Supreme Court ruling means all old cases covered by the amnesty, most of them corruption cases, have been revived. It also asked the government to seek revival of cases lodged in foreign countries.

Some legal experts say the danger for the president is that the legitimacy of his 2008 election as president could be challenged now that old cases against him have been revived.

Among those protected by the amnesty were the interior and defence ministers and several of Zardari's top aides.

The NRO was passed in October 2007 by then-president Pervez Musharraf, under pressure to hold elections and end about eight years of military rule.

The amnesty was introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf as part of a power-sharing deal brokered with Zardari's late wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, with U.S. and British role.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile soon after the amnesty was introduced, but was assassinated weeks later while campaigning for a general election she hoped to win.

Instead, Zardari led her party to victory in the February 2008 polls and became president after Musharraf stepped down later that year.

Coup rumours

Pakistan also has prevented the defence minister from leaving the country on the orders of an anti-graft agency, sparking rumours of a coup that were quickly dismissed.

Mukhtar told local television late Thursday he had been due to go on an official three-day visit to China but that his name had been put on an "exit control list" restricting travel.

A spokesman for the state anti-graft agency said on Thursday the names of about 248 people had been placed on a list of people barred from leaving the country.

The spokesman did not identify any of those on the list but Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar was one of them, said the president's spokesman, Farhatullah Babar.

"The name of the defence minister happens to be on the list and he was not allowed to go," said Babar. Mukhtar had been on his way to China late on Thursday when he was stopped, he said.

Rumours of a coup started, apparently, when Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, told CNN in response to questioning about the defence minister being denied the right to leave that he hoped there would not be a coup.

Babar, said, "of course there is no coup," adding in Islamabad, where life was normal with no sign of any unusual activity in the chilly pre-dawn hours.

"Hundreds of visas for US"

Pakistan has delayed hundreds of visas for U.S. officials and contractors, the State Department said on Thursday.

"If this continues, it will indeed have an impact," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told a news briefing, confirming a report in the New York Times. "We are trying to work these issues with the government of Pakistan."

Wood said the delays, which affect hundreds of applications for visas and visa renewals, had been noted for months and covered officials and contractors engaged in a "wide range of activities."

He said U.S. officials had been in touch with the Pakistani government but as yet had no clear picture on why the visas were not being issued."

""They are well aware of these concerns," Wood said. "I can't give you any reason why they are being delayed."

The New York Times said the problem affected military attaches, CIA agents.

CIA presence angers Pakistanis.

CIA recently had to cancel a deal with US security contractor Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, operated in Pakistan despite repeated denials.

Blackwater is a sensitive subject in Pakistan where its name is associated with drone strikes, bombings and violent activities that have left hundreds of civilians dead.

CIA allowed the company's employees to load bombs on CIA drones at secret airfields in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Agencies

Last Mod: 18 Aralık 2009, 17:16
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