Mon, Mar 23, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Celebrations as Pakistan’s chief justice returns to job


Pakistan’s chief justice returned to his post yesterday after two years of protests over his ouster that aided the downfall of one government and pressured the current administration to yield to the opposition.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani prime minister paid a visit to the home of the opposition chief with what he called a “goodwill message,” hoping to further calm political tensions that have distracted a nation beleaguered by rising al-Qaeda and Taliban violence.

Hundreds of lawyers and activists who have agitated for Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry’s return gathered outside the judge’s home for a ceremonial flag-raising. They carried balloons and threw rose petals, calling the judge’s reinstatement a milestone for democracy.

“It is a day of victory for the people of Pakistan,” lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan said.

The top judge tackled routine duties yesterday, such as approving panels of jurists, a court statement said. He was formally back in office after midnight following Saturday’s retirement of the chief justice who had replaced him.

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf deposed Chaudhry in 2007 after the independent-minded judge began examining cases that could have embarrassed the military ruler and threatened his claim to office.

The justice’s firing sparked a wave of lawyer-led protests that helped force Musharraf to allow elections that brought his foes to power in early 2007. Musharraf resigned last summer.

His successor, Asif Ali Zardari, promised to restore the chief justice, but kept stalling, apparently over fears that Chaudhry would examine a deal that granted him immunity from prosecution over corruption claims.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, head of the second-biggest party, joined the opposition because of Zardari’s failure to return Chaudhry to his post.

Sharif was further angered after a court ruling last month barred him and his brother Shahbaz from holding elected office. Zardari then dismissed the Punjab provincial government headed by Shahbaz Sharif.

Zardari gave in last week and reinstated the chief justice after activist lawyers and opposition supporters began a march toward the capital, where they planned to stage a sit-in at parliament.

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