New Pakistani court reverses anti-Musharraf ruling

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 6 (Reuters) Judges picked by President Pervez Musharraf to replace a mostly hostile Supreme Court bench began reversing predecessors' decisions today by striking down an order declaring the imposition of emergency rule illegal.

The order was the last one given by chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and six other Supreme Court judges before they were dismissed on Saturday following the declaration of emergency rule and suspension of the constitution.

''It would be deemed as if it had not taken place,'' said a court official quoting newly-appointed Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar, the head of an eight-member bench.

Dogar said judges who issued the order had already lost their authority after failing to take a fresh oath of office following promulgation of a provisional constitutional order (PCO).

A priority for General Musharraf is a decision from the Supreme Court to strike down challenges against his re-election by parliament last month.

The timing of elections, which had been expected in January, and his decision to step down as army chief and become a civilian leader is likely to rest on this, officials said.

The Supreme Court had already stopped him from declaring victory in the Oct. 6 election until it finished hearing the challenges.

Most people believe the emergency was invoked to stop a possible decision against Musharraf by the court.

Chaudhry and other judges are being held incommunicado at their residences, though the former chief justice still managed to get out a message by mobile phone to a lawyers' movement that has led protests for the past two days.

''The constitution has been ripped to shreds,'' Chaudhry said.

''The lawyers should convey my message to the people to rise up and restore the constitution. This is a time for sacrifices.

I am under arrest now, but soon I will also join you in your struggle,'' he said.

Chaudhry became a symbol of resistance to Musharraf when he defied the president's attempt to oust him last March, and was reinstated by the court in July after being suspended.

Hundreds of lawyers have been detained, along with opposition workers, some political leaders and civil rights activists.

LEGAL PARALYSIS? After dismissing judges who were too difficult to handle, Musharraf has been filling the Supreme Court benches with more amenable judges. Four more were sworn on Tuesday, taking the total to 9 -- well short of the original strength of 17.

Having replaced the judges, Musharraf is still faced with possible paralysis of Pakistan's legal system so long as the lawyers' movement carries out a prolonged boycott of the courts.

Other cases before the Supreme Court that Musharraf will want squared away include a contempt case against the government over the removal of Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf deposed, who was put on a plane to Saudi Arabia when he tried to come back from exile in September.

The court was also hearing challenges to Musharraf's right to have granted another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and other politicians, protection against prosecution in cases from the 1990s, prior to his coup in October, 1999.

There was no indication of when Musharraf would lift emergency rule, which he justified by citing a hostile judiciary and rising militancy. However he said on Monday he planned to give up his military role in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

''I am determined to execute this third stage of transition fully and I'm determined to remove my uniform once we correct these pillars, the judiciary and the executive and the parliament,'' he told foreign diplomats in a meeting, that state-run Pakistan Television ran excerpts from.

REUTERS SS RN1755

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