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3 Pakistani judges return to top court

September 06, 2008|From the Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday reinstated three judges ousted by former President Pervez Musharraf, another victory for the man set to succeed him as head of state.

Musharraf's purge of the court last year deepened his unpopularity and helped the party of assassinated former leader Benazir Bhutto gain the largest number of parliament seats in February elections.

Bhutto's widower and political heir, Asif Ali Zardari, marshaled a coalition that forced Musharraf to quit last month. Zardari is expected to win easily when lawmakers elect a new president today.

However, the alliance's second-largest party has quit because Zardari refused to restore all the judges, including the ousted chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

Judges Tassadiq Hussain Jillani, Shakirullah Jan and Syed Jamshed Ali were sworn back onto the court in a solemn ceremony.

Law Minister Farooq Naek said Chaudhry was also welcome to take a fresh oath, but could not return as chief justice because removing the judge who replaced him could trigger a "constitutional impasse."

"There cannot be two chief justices," Naek told reporters.

The move widens the rift between Zardari's Pakistan People's Party and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, now the main opposition group.

Zardari had refused calls for the government to restore the judges, arguing that it required constitutional amendments to untangle a legal mess bequeathed by Musharraf.

Zardari has been highly critical of Chaudhry, who as chief justice stood up to Musharraf and questioned a pact that he signed to quash long-standing corruption charges against Zardari and Bhutto.

Musharraf imposed emergency rule in November in order to halt legal challenges to his plan to stay on for another five years as president. The government already has changed the law, raising the maximum number of judges in the Supreme Court from 16 to 29 -- meaning none of the new judges will have to make way for any who return.

In the balloting today, Zardari faces off against a senator from the pro-Musharraf party and a former judge put forward by Sharif. His election would make him one of the most powerful civilian leaders in Pakistan's 61-year history.

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