Sat, May 03, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Ousted judges will be restored, says former Pakistan PM

AP , LAHORE, PAKISTAN

Judges purged by Pervez Musharraf to protect his disputed presidency will return to their posts “with dignity, respect and honor,” a leader of Pakistan’s new government said yesterday.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s forecast followed two days of talks aimed at settling differences within the ruling coalition over how to bring back the judges.

The issue is critical to the survival of Pakistan’s month-old civilian government, which has begun to ease the US-backed president’s military confrontation with militants.

It could also determine Musharraf’s ability to cling to his already diminished powers more than eight years after he ousted Sharif’s government in a coup.

Leaders of the two biggest parties in the coalition emerged from marathon negotiations in the Persian Gulf state of Dubai late on Thursday. Both sides insisted they had made progress on the judges issue and that the coalition would survive.

However, they announced no final accord and said Sharif would only disclose details of their discussions after a party meeting in Lahore yesterday.

“We have decided to restore the judges” through a resolution in parliament, Sharif told reporters on his arrival early yesterday at Lahore airport.

The justices will “go back to the courts with dignity, respect and honor,” he said.

Musharraf ousted some 60 senior judges — including Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry — when he imposed a state of emergency in November to stop legal challenges to his re-election.

But the crackdown only deepened his unpopularity, and his allies were routed in February parliamentary elections that propelled his opponents to power.

Sharif has pushed particularly hard for the reinstatement of the judges, stirring speculation that he sees them as an ally in a drive to oust Musharraf completely. The judges could re-examine complaints that Musharraf was ineligible for another five-year term.

But the party of assassinated ex-leader Benazir Bhutto, which leads the government, has sought to link their return to broader reforms that could crimp Chaudhry’s tenure and powers.

Chaudhry had shown an unusual degree of independence, investigating complaints that the country’s spy agencies were holding opposition activists secretly under the cover of fighting international terrorism. Musharraf accused the chief justice of corruption and of conspiring against him and his plans to guide Pakistan back to democracy.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower and political successor, has said that Chaudhry and other judges were “playing politics” and failed to deliver justice to him during the years he spent in jail on unproven corruption charges.

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