Pakistan government unveils annual budget

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Islamabad, Jun 11 (UNI) Pakistan's new government today unveiled a 2.01 trillion rupees federal budget for the year 2008-09 with an increased allocation of 296.1 billion rupees for defence.

Presenting the budget in the National Assembly, acting Finance Minister, Naveed Qamar said it was an uphill task for the government to prepare budget for a completely sagging economy, which suffered serious shocks throughout the outgoing fiscal year, ending June 30.

He especially referred to judicial crisis that began March 9 last year with dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry by President Pervez Musharraf on charges of misuse of powers.

A presidential reference against Chaudhry was quashed by the Supreme Court but Musharraf struck back and sacked him as well as other 69 judges under emergency rule imposed on November 3.

''There was problem of law and order when our government presented last budget in 1996 but it was not of a magnitude that we are experiencing today with death and destruction casting shadow over every city and a wave of terror setting off ripples among people,'' Mr Qamar said referring to a series of suicide attacks and bomb blasts, which killed more than 900 people in Pakistan since January 2007.

Qamar did not speak much about the defence budget, which is up by 21 billion this year as compared to the ongoing fiscal year's revised estimates of 275 billion rupees.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had told the parliament on Monday that the increase would be insignificant in view of the growing dollar-rupee parity.

The Finance Minister, however, announced that copies of the defence spending would be tabled in the parliament during discussion on the budget for the year 2008-09.

He also announced that strength of judges would be increased to 29 from the current 16, giving a clear indication of his government's plans to restore all deposed judges of the Supreme Court.

He did not give further details in this regard especially the modus operandi the government will adopt to reinstate the judges.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which is Pakistan Peoples Party's coalition partner in the government had pulled out its Ministers from the Cabinet after the PPP failed to implement an earlier understanding to restore judges through a parliamentary resolution by May 12.

Mr Qamar's announcement came against the backdrop of a long march launched by the lawyers community from the central city of Multan today for the reinstatement of judges with a call by Chaudhry for supremacy of rule of law and constitution.

Former premier Nawaz Sharif told reporters in Islamabad that he would join the march in Lahore tomorrow, saying Musharraf's resignation was inevitable for promotion of a genuine democracy in the country.

The lawyers will reach Lahore in the second phase tomorrow on their way to Islamabad in the last leg of the march.

UNI XC RJ AS2207

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