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DateLine Wednesday, 21 March 2007

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Elections will be on time - Musharraf

PAKISTAN: Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said elections due this year will be held on time and ruled out imposing an emergency to end the uproar over government moves to sack the country’s chief judge.

The suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary on March 9 has outraged lawyers, the opposition and many ordinary Pakistanis, and presented Musharraf with his biggest political crisis since he seized power in 1999.

The move against Chaudhary has fuelled suspicion Musharraf feared the independent-minded judge would block any move by the president to retain the role of army chief, which he is due to relinquish this year.

Protesting lawyers and opposition activists clashed with police in the capital, Islamabad, and in Lahore last week. There were no demonstrations in those cities on Monday but several hundred lawyers marched in Karachi and lawyers across the country stopped work for an hour in a token protest.

The government has not given details of the accusations against Chaudhary but a state news agency cited “misconduct and misuse of authority”. The accusations have been referred to a judicial panel that will sit for the third time on Wednesday.

At least six judges resigned to show support for Chaudhary, judicial officials said, and the leader of an opposition alliance of conservative religious parties called for more protests.

Speaking on a television current affairs talk show that authorities briefly banned last week for focusing on the Chaudhary case, Musharraf said everything he had done had been within the constitution.

He said some mistakes had been made in handling the case, such as not keeping the public better informed, and he warned political parties not to try to take advantage of the situation.

“Elections will be held on time. This is my assurance to the nation,” he said, referring to polls for the national and provincial assemblies. Under the Pakistani system, parliament and provincial assemblies elect the president. Musharraf, who is also army chief, dismissed speculation an emergency might be declared: “I will never use the army.”

Asked if he would keep his post as army chief, Musharraf said: “We will follow the constitution.” He has previously said, under the constitution, he was allowed to remain army chief and president until the end of 2007.

The leader of the opposition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance of religious parties called for a protest outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Wednesday when Chaudhary appears before the panel. “We have to intensify street protests,” Qazi Hussain Ahmed, president of the six-party alliance, told reporters.

Islamabad, Tuesday, Reuters


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