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Sacked Pakistan judges fear repeat performance

world Updated: Oct 15, 2010 16:14 IST

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday warned the government against firing assertive judges amid fears of a repeat of a crisis that helped bring down former military President Pervez Musharraf.

Television channels on Thursday said the government of President Asif Ali Zardari was planning to dismiss judges hearing an appeal against overturning a law that gave amnesty to him, several of his key aides and politicians of corruption charges.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani denied the media reports but the court summoned the attorney-general to explain the government's position, saying similar rumours were spread when Musharraf sacked them in 2007.

"Any step (to sack judges) would be tantamount to the toppling of an important pillar of state and subverting the constitution," Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said, citing constitutional provisions which describe such moves as "high treason".

The sacking of Chaudhry and scores of senior judges by Musharraf in 2007 triggered political turmoil in Pakistan that eventually led to the end of his nine-year rule a year later.

Zardari reluctantly agreed to reinstate the judges last year after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led thousands of protesters to Islamabad to press for their restoration.

Critics say Zardari's reluctance stemmed from fears that Chaudhry would revive corruption charges against him and his aides.

Speculation has been rife in Pakistan for weeks that the Supreme Court might reject a government appeal against overturning the amnesty law that critics say could spark a new political crisis in the south Asian nation critical for U.S. efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

Zardari's supporters say he cannot be prosecuted because of presidential immunity, even if the government's appeal is rejected.

Zardari has been under pressure on several fronts. Failure to deliver aid and compensation to millions of Pakistanis made homeless by the floods could lead to social unrest, especially as winter sets in.