Tue, Mar 17, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Pakistan reinstates sacked chief justice, tensions defused

AP , ISLAMABAD AND PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

The Pakistani government relented in a major confrontation with the opposition yesterday, agreeing to reinstate a fired Supreme Court chief justice whose fate had sparked street fights and raised fears of political instability.

A dawn announcement by the prime minister that Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry would be sworn back in on Saturday capped a night of high drama and led activist lawyers to drop plans to march on the capital and stage a sit-in at Parliament later in the day.

The US called the decision “statesmanlike,” but it was also a significant concession that could weaken US-allied President Asif Ali Zardari, who had long refused to restore the independent-minded Chaudhry despite demands by lawyers and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.

Attempts to quell the protest movement — through arrests and bans on rallies — have triggered cracks in the ruling party.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s announcement also promised the restoration of a handful of other judges who had remained off the bench since former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf sacked them in 2007. He further ordered the release of activists arrested over the past week and appealed for political reconciliation.

Jubilant supporters waved flags and cheered outside Chaudhry’s Islamabad home, where the grinning jurist briefly made an appearance on the balcony. Activists said the decision was a triumph for democracy, and the nation’s stock market rallied in the morning.

“No country can progress without an independent judiciary and the government — by restoring the chief justice and other judges — has also realized it, and we think it is a big success,” said Ali Ahmad Kurd, a leader of the protesting lawyers.

The concession came as thousands of protesters led by Sharif, a former prime minister and the head of the largest opposition party, were traveling to Islamabad to join the planned sit-in. Sharif joined the convoy after ignoring a house arrest order in Lahore, Punjab Province, where his supporters fought police.

Meanwhile, as many as 50 militants attacked a terminal for trucks carrying supplies to US and NATO troops in Afghanistan early yesterday, in the second such assault in northwest Pakistan in two days.

Militants attacked the al-Fasil terminal early in the morning, outnumbering security guards, before throwing gasoline over 10 container trucks carrying supplies and setting off explosions, said guard Janab-e-aali. There were no reports of injuries or deaths.The Pakistani government relented in a major confrontation with the opposition yesterday, agreeing to reinstate a fired Supreme Court chief justice whose fate had sparked street fights and raised fears of political instability.

A dawn announcement by the prime minister that Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry would be sworn back in on Saturday capped a night of high drama and led activist lawyers to drop plans to march on the capital and stage a sit-in at Parliament later in the day.

The US called the decision “statesmanlike,” but it was also a significant concession that could weaken US-allied President Asif Ali Zardari, who had long refused to restore the independent-minded Chaudhry despite demands by lawyers and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.

Attempts to quell the protest movement — through arrests and bans on rallies — have triggered cracks in the ruling party.

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