Pakistan chief justice released

Iftikhar Chaudhry freed from house arrest after appointment of new prime minister.

    Gilani is also seeking a UN investigation into Benazir Bhutto's assassination [AFP]
    Gilani told parliament: "Today, democracy has been restored thanks to the great sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto."
    Bhutto, who led the Pakistan Peoples party, was assassinated during an election campaign in December last year.

    "I will demand the immediate release of all the arrested judges,"  he added.

    Shortly after, police started removing the barricades outside Chaudhry's home. Chaudhry had been dismissed by Musharraf last November.

    Leaders of the main parties in parliament accused Musharraf of dismissing about 60 senior judges, many of whom have been under house arrest since, amid fears that they would overturn his re-election.

    Chaudhry appeared in public for the first time since November on the balcony of his house, flanked by his wife and children. He waved to supporters, many of whom were shouting slogans calling for the resignation of Musharraf.
    He said: "I am thankful to the entire nation which has struggled for the  last five months for the rule of law."

    State media quoted a senior Islamabad administrator as saying that "all deposed judges are free to move".

    Raja Assad Hameed, a special correspondent for The Nation newspaper,  told Al Jazeera that the reinstatement of the judges appears to be likely.

    "It stands as the most popular demand of the masses, and of the parliament.

    "Many politicians who were pro-Musharraf, and backed the detention of the judges, now have changed sides."

    Misconduct allegations

    Musharraf said Chaudhry was sacked over allegations of impropriety and misconduct.

    Chaudhry's suspension had sparked the country's biggest political crisis since Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

    Athar Minallah, Chaudhry's aide, said that the sacked judge was grateful to Gilani.

    "I have just met the chief justice, he has thanked the prime minister and the new assembly and he has also said that he is praying for the democratic institutions," Minallah told the AFP news agency.

    "From tomorrow he will start meeting people and thanked the common people who have come to greet him. He has asked his supporters not to raise any slogans in the judicial colony, to respect the sanctity of the judiciary."

    Musharraf 'isolated'

    Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Chaudhry's residence in Islamabad, said Gilani's appointment is seen as a glimmer of hope for Pakistan.

    "This [call for judges release] is a victory for the electoral process, and those who had campaigned for the restoration of the judiciary," he said.

    "People gathered here are calling for Musharraf's resignation. The question remains, however, is how Musharraf is going to handle the rapidly growing discontent with his policies."

    Chaudhry has been under house arrest since
    he was sacked in November [AFP]

    Hyder also said that the newly elected coalition will isolate Musharraf.

    "The president asked the public to vote for him in the elections, and an overwhelming majority did not.

    "Gilani will bear many responsibilities, and he will have his work cut out, attempting to restore the relevance and the supremacy of the parliament," he said.

    The coalition led that won general elections in February has vowed to reinstate the sacked judiciary.

    If the new government honours that pledge, the judges could still declare Musharraf's re-election illegal and remove him from the presidency.

    The new prime minister also said he will ask parliament to pass a resolution seeking a UN inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

    Overwhelming win

    Gilani won 264 votes in the 342-seat lower house of parliament, while Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, a senior leader of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) party, secured 42 votes in the poll on Monday evening.

    Fahmida Mirza, the parliament speaker, said: "Yousaf Raza Gilani commands the majority of the members. Please come forward and take the seat of leader of the house."

    Special report

    He will be sworn in on Tuesday by Musharraf.

    There had been speculation that the PPP would nominate a stop-gap prime minister and Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, who now leads the party would take over the post if enters parliament after standing in a by-election.

    But the News, a Pakistani newspaper, on Monday cited Zardari as rejecting such speculation and saying that Gilani would be prime minister for a full five-year term.

    Time in jail

    Gilani was jailed in 2001 by the Musharraf government for making illegal appointments but was freed in 2006. He said the charge was politically motivated.

    While in prison, Gilani wrote a book that advocated a strong military, but one that was removed from politics.

    He has called for the repeal of constitutional changes made by Musharraf to bolster his authority, including the power to dismiss a government.

    For his part, Musharraf has promised full support to the incoming government.

    "My brothers and sisters, you are seeing that a real democratic era has begun in Pakistan," he said while addressing the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad, the capital, on Sunday.

    "Which ever new government is formed, it will enjoy my full support."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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