Pakistan appoints first Hindu judge

Rana Bhagwandas replacea Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry who faces charges.

     Rana Bhagwandas, right, before he took the oath as Pakistan's acting chief justice [AFP]

    Critics say Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, wanted to get rid of the strong-willed Chaudhry ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections to forestall any legal challenges to his rule.
     
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    Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and serves as both army chief and president, denies the charge, and has urged the lawyers to let a five-member panel of the judges of the Supreme Judicial Council decide the fate of Chaudhry, who has twice appeared before the council.
     
    Since the council last week began a closed door hearing of Chaudhry's case, he has demanded an open trial for him.
     
    In his brief comments on Saturday, Bhagwandas said that any decision on Chaudhry's case would be taken in accordance with the constitution.
     
    "The Supreme Judicial Council will decide this case on merit, without any favor or ill-will," he said, adding the nation "will soon hear good news."
     
    Resignations
     
    The council, which handles complaints of wrongdoing in the higher judiciary, can either confirm or throw out the alleged complaints against Chaudhry.
     
    It was scheduled to resume hearing Chaudhry's case on Wednesday but the hearing was postponed until April 3. So far, six judges have resigned to protest Chaudhry's removal.
     
    In 2002, Musharraf held parliamentary elections.The same year he won support to be the head of state in a controversial referendum in which he was the only candidate.
     
    In 2004, Parliament endorsed him as president. Musharraf's term as the president expires later this year. The current parliament will also complete its tenure in November.
     
    Although Musharraf's allies have urged him to seek another five-year term from the current parliament, the opposition has opposed the idea, saying it would seek supreme court's help to stop Musharraf against any such move.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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