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22.03.2009 International

Pakistan judge regains top post

By BBC


Pakistan's sacked Supreme Court chief justice has formally returned to his post following months of mass protests by opposition activists.

Iftikhar Chaudhry's reinstatement was marked by a ceremonial flag-raising.

Correspondents say the government's decision to reinstate Mr Chaudhry on Monday was a response to opposition threats to call a huge rally.

Mr Chaudhry and 60 other judges were dismissed by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007.

Most of the judges have since been reinstated.
'Victory for judiciary'
Mr Chaudhry formally resumed his post at midnight on Saturday.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Monday he would return to his job after current Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar quit the post.

But the government clearly acted under pressure from the opposition, who had staged mass protest rallies for several days, the BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says.

Mr Chaudhry's return has been hailed as a victory for an independent judiciary in Pakistan, our correspondent says.

One reason for the failure - until now - to reinstate Mr Chaudhry is thought to be the fact that he challenged an amnesty given by Gen Musharraf that enabled Asi Ali Zardari to return to Pakistan, where he won presidential elections last year.

If the amnesty was overturned, Mr Zardari, the widower of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, could be left exposed to corruption charges.

Mr Chaudhry's return could open up new battles for the presidency, our correspondent says.

Government's pledge
Our correspondent says the opposition have been jubilant at Mr Chaudhry's return, regarding it as the triumph of two years of struggle against both military and civilian governments.

Opposition supporters dancing in the street in Islamabad, Pakistan

The opposition protests and unrest had alarmed Western powers, and the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, hailed Mr Gilani's decision.

Announcing Mr Chaudhry's reinstatement, Mr Gilani also said opposition activists and leaders detained over the past week of mounting disturbances would be freed and a ban on demonstrations in the capital and several provinces lifted.

The government in Islamabad also asked the Supreme Court to review a ruling that banned opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother from holding elected office.

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