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Pakistan court reinstates top judge

  International  -   POSTED: 2007/07/20 10:41

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that President Pervez Musharraf had no authority to suspend Pakistan's top judge and ordered him reinstated, a major blow to the standing of the general who has been a key U.S. ally against terrorism. The ruling reinstating Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry is the sharpest legal challenge to Musharraf's dominance since he seized power in a coup in 1999. It could further complicate his bid to win a new five-year presidential term this fall and comes at a time when Islamic militants are mounting a terrorist offensive against his forces.

Lawyers celebrated outside the court, chanting "Go, Musharraf, go!" The decision also prompted celebrations by hundreds of lawyers in major cities, including Karachi, Multan, Faisalabad, Quetta, Peshawar and Rawalpindi.

"Thank God, we got justice," said Ahsan Bhund, president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, as he marched with 500 other lawyers.

The court also quashed charges of misconduct against Chaudhry that Musharraf had sent to a separate judicial tribunal. The decision was a surprise — many had expected the court to reinstate the judge while letting the investigation continue.

In a brief statement, a spokesman for Musharraf said he accepted the ruling by presiding Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday that the president's order suspending Chaudhry was "set aside as being illegal."

"The president respects the decision of the Supreme Court," Musharraf's spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, was quoted as saying by state-run Associated Press of Pakistan. "The president has stated earlier that any judgment the Supreme Court arrives at will be honored, respected and adhered to."

Exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto declared it to be one of the most remarkable judgments in the history of Pakistan's judiciary.

The movement in support of Chaudhry had "turned into struggle against dictatorship, (for the) restoration of the Constitution and for supremacy of the Parliament," she said in a statement.

At the State Department, deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the reinistatement was in keeping with constitutional procedures and "respects the rule of law."


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