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Musharraf has no plans to impose emergency: minister

Pakistan's information minister says polls will also be held in 2007 as promised.

world Updated: Mar 14, 2007 12:07 IST

As Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf monitored the nationwide protests against the suspension of Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, his information minister sought to clear the air saying there were no plans to impose a national emergency.

The general elections promised later this year would also be held, Mohammed Ali Durrani said on Tuesday.

"There is no need to impose an emergency as all constitutional matters are running smoothly," the high profile minister was quoted as saying by Daily Times.

He accused Chaudhry of "behaving like a politician", a reference to the sacked judge, who was reportedly roughed up Tuesday, refusing a government vehicle to travel to the court and speaking to the media.

Musharraf was being kept abreast of the minute-to-minute developments, both of the continuing protests by lawyers and politicians and of the proceedings of Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

Politicians and lawyers should allow the SJC to conduct its proceedings and refrain from making comments Musharraf was reported as telling Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

However, Fakhruddin G Ibrahim, a retired judge billed to represent the government before the SJC, told the BBC that he was not appearing for the government and supported Chaudhry.

Chaudhry, who appeared before SJC on Tuesday, contested the composition of the five-member Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) saying that two of its members faced charges of misconduct.

Surrounded by protesting lawyers, Justice Javed Iqbal, appointed acting chief justice last week, said Chaudhry was "still the chief justice" and that he would order an inquiry into his suspended superior's manhandling by the police.

Pakistan's first Hindu Supreme Court judge, Rana Bhagwandas, on leave and abroad, is the senior-most after Chaudhry.

The Sindh Bar Council demanded that all SJC proceedings against Chaudhry be held only after Das' return to head the council.

Terming Chaudhry's appearance before SJC as 'impeachment', The Nation newspaper noted that Musharraf's "pet concept of unity of command", among various arms of the government had come under strain.

"The judiciary has never been out of the long shadow of our strongmen. But its inbuilt security and stability has the potential of growing out of that scare. The presidential move has struck at that innate strength," the newspaper said.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday expressed apprehension that the government was trying to keep the national media "a bit quieter".

"There are strong fears that the government may impose some curbs on the national media in the name of national interest," PFUJ Secretary General Mazhar Abbas told Daily Times.

Pakistan Muslim League-Qaid, the ruling party blessed by Musharraf, staged a demonstration to counter protests, joined in by politicians, among them Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Maulana Fazlur Rahman and cricket-politician Imran Khan.

The controversy acquired human rights dimensions abroad with the Washington-based Human Rights Watch taking up the issue.

"By brazenly and unlawfully dismissing, detaining and humiliating the chief justice of the Supreme Court, President Musharraf has created a constitutional crisis at the judiciary's expense," said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher for the group.

"Musharraf has undermined judicial independence before and nothing could make that more clear than his arrest of the chief justice," said Hasan.