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Judge's fate out of my hands, says Musharraf

By Staff
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Google Oneindia News

Islamabad, Mar 15: President Pervez Musharraf, accused by lawyers, journalists and political opponents of acting unconstitutionally in trying to sack the country's most senior judge, said today that he wouldn't interfere in the case. The hearing against Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary will reconvene on Friday behind closed doors, but there is no clear idea how long the case might last.

''I promise you that judiciary will decide, we don't have to interfere in the matter, even I don't have the right,'' Musharraf told a rally in eastern town of Gujranwala.

''Whatever decision they take, I will accept it.'' Chaudhary has already told the panel of five judges sitting on the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) that he does not expect a fair hearing from them.

Lawyers are expected to continue their week-long agitation against the government's action, Islamist parties are planning protests after Friday prayers, while the media is smarting over attempts to muzzle its reporting and commenting on the case.

The Chief Justice was suspended last Friday after a meeting with Musharraf, and his subsequent confinement at his Islamabad home has outraged many Pakistanis.

''He is like a class-A prisoner,'' said Syed Iftikhar Gillani, former law minister in Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who was one of the few people to have gained access to see the suspended chief justice.

Allegations against Chaudhary have been vague, and the SJC hearing is being held behind closed doors.

The handling of the case has fuelled suspicions that Musharraf feared the independent-minded judge would not accept any move by him to retain his role as army chief, which constitutionally he should give up this year.

Musharraf, who came to power following a military coup more than seven years ago, may have picked a bad time for a confrontation with judge.

Elections for national and provincial assemblies are due either this year or early 2008, and while analysts believe he can obtain another 5-year term from either the sitting assemblies or the new ones the controversy could end up weakening his position.

Musharraf is already under pressure from the United States to act forcibly against the Taliban on Pakistani soil and also to see that the next elections are ''free and fair''.

The political opposition, of every hue, have made a cause celebre out of Chaudhary, whose refusal to go quietly represents a rare challenge to Musharraf's authority from within the Pakistani establishment.

''The matter is being politicised and efforts are being made to gain political mileage out of it,'' said Musharraf.

A lawyer for Chaudhary said the SJC lacked the authority to suspend him on March 9 and the haste in which the action was taken raised more doubts.

''It has no authority to remove him because it can only recommend. It is an advisory body. It cannot make him dysfunctional,'' lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan told Reuters.

A civil judge, Saeed Khurshid, posted in Bahawalpur city in central Punjab province, resigned in protest over the treatment of the chief justice.

''What protection can you give to me or my colleagues in an institution where a sitting chief justice is being humiliated,'' said Khurshid.''

REUTERS

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