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Pakistan court to consider ousted judge's argument

world Updated: Jun 11, 2007 15:56 IST

The Pakistani Supreme Court decided on Monday to consider a challenge filed by the country's suspended top judge to government accusations of misconduct against him.

"Technically, the main hurdle has been crossed," said Tariq Mehmood, a lawyer for suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

President Pervez Musharraf's move to dismiss Chaudhry on accusations of misconduct on March 9 sparked protests by lawyers and the opposition that have turned into a broad campaign for the restoration of democracy.

It is the most serious challenge to Musharraf's authority since he seized power in a 1999 coup, and threatens stability in a nuclear-armed country on the front line of a global anti-terrorism campaign.

While political tension has mounted, the Supreme Court has been listening to legal arguments to determine what judicial body should rule on the complaint of misconduct against Chaudhry.

Chaudhry has argued that his case should be heard by a full bench of the Supreme Court, not a five-judge judicial panel known as the Supreme Judicial Council.

Government lawyers had tried to challenge that argument but on Monday, the Supreme Court said it would not rule on the government lawyers' challenge but would consider it along with the merits of Chaudhry's argument.

The crisis has erupted in the run-up to elections, and analysts believe Musharraf's main motive for seeking to dismiss Chaudhry stemmed from doubts he would be supportive in the event of constitutional challenges to the president's election plan.

Musharraf has said he will seek re-election by the sitting national and provincial assemblies before they are dissolved for a general election around the end of the year.

But he is believed to be reluctant to give up his post of army chief as he is constitutionally required to do.

According to a statement filed in the Supreme Court last week, the accusations include falsifying expenses, harassing judges, bias in appointments and intimidating police and civil servants.

The government appears determined to get rid of Chaudhry and on Sunday said a new misconduct complaint had been prepared against him.

Chaudhry has made several trips out of Islamabad to meet lawyer supporters over recent weeks.

An attempt to address a rally of lawyers in Karachi on May 12 sparked the worst political violence in Pakistan in years.

About 40 people were killed when pro-government activists clashed with opposition supporters hoping to welcome Chaudhry to the city.

There has been no violence since then.