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Let law take its course on judge: Musharraf

Written by: Staff
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Islamabad, Mar 23: Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf tried today to defuse a political crisis over the suspension of the country's top judge, saying the law must be allowed to take its course. Musharraf, speaking at a Pakistan Day ceremony in the capital, Islamabad, also said every Pakistani had to stand up to the extremism and terrorism spreading through society. The government's suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9 triggered protests by lawyers and the opposition and has snowballed into Musharraf's biggest political crisis in the run-up to an expected attempt to seek another term.

''It is legal issue and it will be resolved only though legal and constitutional means,'' Musharraf said.

''I appeal to all lawyers that they should let this constitutional and legal process be completed. It should not be made a law and order or political issue,'' he said.

Chaudhry, in his first media interview since his suspension, told the Dawn newspaper he was innocent and wanted the closed hearing into the accusations against him open to the public.

The move to sack Chaudhry led to suspicion Musharraf feared the independent-minded judge would block any attempt by the president to keep the post of army chief, which he is due to give up this year.

Chaudhry might also have been called to rule on the timing of the next presidential election.

Under the Pakistani system, parliament and provincial assemblies elect the president and Musharraf's aides have said he might call on existing assemblies to do so, rather than the new assemblies that get elected late this year or early next.

Many judges and lawyers see the move against Chaudhry as an attack on the independence of the judiciary and seven judges and a deputy attorney-general have resigned.

Lawyers and opposition activists clashed with police in Islamabad and Lahore last week. Protests have continued this week but there has been no serious trouble. More protests have been called for coming days.

''Not At Fault''

The government has not announced the accusations against Chaudhry but a newspaper published them on Wednesday. The main one appeared to be that Chaudhry had used his position to help his son get a public sector job.

The top judicial watchdog hearing the accusations against him is due to hold its third closed session on April 3.

Chaudhry was kept under virtual house arrest with his family for the week after his suspension and has since been keeping a low profile. But he told the Dawn newspaper he was completely innocent.

''That is why I want the public to know of the charges as well as of my defence,'' Chaudhry told the newspaper.

''I want all the citizens of Pakistan to know that their chief justice is not at fault.'' The uproar over Chaudhry has diverted public attention from security worries but Musharraf said in his speech extremism and terrorism were spreading in society.

''This cannot be handled by a single individual or force.

Therefore, I appeal to every person and the entire nation to stand up and save the nation from the danger of extremism and terrorism,'' he said.

''Pakistan's future is ... a moderate, progressive, prosperous and powerful country.'' Pakistan Day marks the anniversary of a 1940 demand by a Muslim political party for a Muslim homeland in then British-ruled South Asia.

Reuters

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