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Musharraf lifted emergency rule PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 16 December 2007

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf lifted his unpopular state of emergency yesterday , but only after a last-minute move to shore up his powers before general elections three weeks away.

Amid months of political turmoil and the stiffest challenges to his authority since he seized power in a 1999 coup, Musharraf ended emergency rule and restored the constitution, which he suspended on November 3.

His Western backers, notably the United States, had insisted on an end to the emergency before the elections, hoping to quell a wave of popular discontent in a nuclear-armed country central to the US "war on terror".

But Musharraf still faces accusations that he has effectively rigged the January 8 vote for parliament. Judges who opposed him have been dismissed and detained, and strict curbs on the media will remain in place.

"The emergency was revoked and the constitution was restored at 1:30pm today," Law Minister Afzal Haider told AFP.

"The lifting of the emergency will ensure that parliamentary elections are free and fair," Haider said. He called the move a "victory for the people of Pakistan".

Musharraf was to address the nation live on television at 1500 GMT.

The president imposed emergency rule six weeks ago, citing a surge in attacks by Islamic militants as well as what he said was interference by the judiciary in running the country.

Thousands of people were jailed, uncooperative justices sacked and tough new curbs slapped on the media. Public demonstrations were also banned -- including rallies by political parties ahead of the election.

Main opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a former premier who has toyed with the idea of a power-sharing arrangement with Musharraf but now says she would never serve under him, accused him of trying to steal the January polls.

"The lifting of the emergency is a good step but rigging of the elections on a big scale is being planned," she said in the southwestern city of Quetta, as her Pakistan People's Party geared up for post-emergency campaigning.

Benazir Bhutto's PPP and the party of another former premier, Nawaz Sharif, are the chief rivals contesting the election with Musharraf's PML-Q party.

Hours before the repeal, Musharraf issued a decree amending the constitution that bans the incoming parliament from any legal challenges to his imposition emergency rule.

He also formally decreed that all presidential actions carried out under the emergency were legal and valid, and could not be subject to challenge in the courts.

He has also moved to handpick the country's top judges. In a ceremony broadcast live on state television, Musharraf swore in Abdul Hameed Dogar as the chief justice of the Supreme Court after the emergency was lifted.

Pakistan's judges and lawyers have been at the heart of the country's political turmoil since March, when Musharraf tried to suspend Dogar's predecessor, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

That move, overturned by the Supreme Court itself, led to massive street protests and started the chain of events that led to the emergency. Chaudhry is now under house arrest.

Musharraf has also been battling a wave of violence, mostly targeting the military, since an army raid on a radical, pro-Taliban mosque in July left about 100 people dead.

Around 700 people have been killed in militant attacks this year, and around 450 of those have come since the raid. Five more soldiers were killed in a suicide attack earlier Saturday.

Critics charge the emergency was only cover for a purge of anti-Musharraf judges who might have entertained challenges to his controversial October re-election.

With the judiciary cleansed of opponents, the media expressly forbidden to "defame" Musharraf and the election campaign curtailed by curbs on public rallies, many of his opponents said lifting the emergency was meaningless.

"Without the restoration of judges who were working before November 3, the revival of undiluted democracy and rule of law will remain an elusive dream for the people of Pakistan," said Sharif spokesman Siddiqul Farooq.

The final list of candidates for the January election was due to be released on Sunday.

Musharraf will be hoping for a two-thirds majority in parliament to block any further challenges to his leadership, but a new poll published in the New York Times this week found two-thirds of Pakistanis want him to resign.

It said any victory for the president would be seen as evidence of significant vote-rigging. Every election in Pakistan since 1985 has been marred by allegations of massive fraud.


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