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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 12:07 GMT
Musharraf court ruling 'delayed'
Posters of President Musharraf
President Musharraf's election win has still not been ratified
Pakistan's Supreme Court is unlikely to rule on the legality of President Pervez Musharraf's re-election before mid-November, the presiding judge says.

Justice Javed Iqbal also said the court would not be intimidated by threats to impose an emergency or martial law.

The judge's comments came as opposition leader Benazir Bhutto flew out of the country to visit her family in Dubai.

Hours earlier, she had said she was postponing the trip because emergency rule might be declared in her absence.

'Lengthy arguments'

The Supreme Court's verdict on the presidential election had been expected by the end of this week, but Justice Iqbal said arguments were taking longer than expected.

No group should think that it can take the Supreme Court hostage
Justice Javed Iqbal

"It was our effort to wind up the case by Thursday or Friday but it has lingered on due to lengthy arguments by the lawyers," he told the court on Thursday.

"If this case does not conclude by tomorrow it will not be heard next week due to engagements of one of the judges and will be then heard on 12 November."

That would make the timing tight as President Musharraf's term expires on 15 November, and he is due to announce the date of general elections due by mid-January.

The main lawyer for the petitioners accused the government of using delaying tactics.

Justice Iqbal also said the Supreme Court would not be taken "hostage".

"No threat will have any effect on this bench, whether it is martial law or [a state of] emergency," he said. "Whatever will happen, it will be according to the constitution and rules."

Gen Musharraf easily won indirect elections for a new term in office on 6 October.

The Supreme Court allowed the poll to go ahead despite petitions challenging his right to run while still army chief. But it said the result would not be final until it had ruled.

The president, who seized power in a 1999 coup, will step down as army chief if he wins a new term in office, his lawyers have said.

Bhutto leaves

Most analysts do not expect the court to disqualify Gen Musharraf, but if it does the political crisis in Pakistan could deepen.

KEY DATES
Benazir Bhutto speaks after the Karachi blasts
06 Oct: Presidential polls held
17 Oct: Supreme Court resumes hearing challenges to Musharraf candidacy
18 Oct: Ex-PM Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan
15 Nov: Parliamentary term ends and general election must be held by mid-January

There are fears the general might invoke emergency measures to stay in power.

Ms Bhutto referred to these late on Wednesday, saying she had changed her plans to fly to Dubai where her family has been based during years of self-imposed exile which she ended in October.

"If a state of emergency is imposed, we will not accept it," she said.

However, hours later she went ahead with the visit, her spokesman confirmed. It is unclear why the two times former prime minister changed her mind.

The government denied it had any plans to impose a state of emergency.

Pakistan has been engulfed in political upheaval in recent months, at the same time as the security forces have suffered a series of blows from pro-Taleban militants opposed to Gen Musharraf's support for the US-led "war on terror".

He and Ms Bhutto have been negotiating a power sharing deal, under which corruption charges against her were dropped, clearing the way for her return.



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