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The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad
"Pakistan's military rulers have welcomed some aspects of the judgement"
 real 28k

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"The reaction to this verdict has been a mixed one"
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Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Pakistan reacts to coup ruling
Pakistan military
The military takeover was challenged by Mr Sharif's party
The judgement by Pakistan's Supreme Court that the October coup was justified has been welcomed by the country's military rulers, but criticised by their opponents.

Pakistan in crisis
Military spokesman General Rashid Qureshi said the ruling had set Pakistan on the "right path".

But he was less positive about the court's three-year time limit for a return to civilian rule, saying that only the military leader, General Pervex Musharraf, could comment on this aspect of the judgement.

Since overthrowing the elected government of Nawaz Sharif on October 12, General Musharraf has steadfastly rejected Western calls to set a deadline for the return to civilian rule.

Opposition criticism

Meanwhile, senior figures from the former Sharif government said the return to democracy should be more rapid, and a spokesman for Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party said many ordinary people would be disappointed by the decision to validate the coup.


General Musharraf:
General Musharraf: Must hold elections after three years
The senior vice-president of Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, Ijazul Haq, said: "The onus is now on General Pervez Musharraf to restore real democracy as early as possible."

Mr Sharif's wife, Kulsoom, said the judges had been under political pressure and argued that the drought in Pakistan was a sign of God's anger about developments in the country.

The Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), a loose opposition coalition led by the Pakistan People's Party, was equally impatient to get democracy back.

"Why is a three-year period required to restore this fundamental right?" said GDA leader Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan.

"If it is to improve the economy and complete accountability then the best choice is always a political government elected through the free will of the people," he added.

Misrule

The court's ruling came after weeks of hearings into petitions which had challenged the military's right to overthrow Mr Sharif's democratically elected government.


New chief justice being sworn in last week
Mr Khan was sworn in as chief justice last week
The ruling handed down by Chief Justice Irshad Hasan Khan said the coup was justified on grounds of necessity, because of corruption and misrule and the bad shape of the economy at the time.

The military government had responded to the case against it by saying its actions had popular backing and were legal under a provisional constitutional order.

In his comments after the ruling, General Qureshi said it was not known whether General Musharraf thought he could achieve all his objectives within three years.

"We do not claim to make things 100% better, but we will give our best to root out corruption, loot and plunder and restore the economy," he told the English-language The News.

Nawaz Sharif was overthrown after he tried to sack General Musharraf as army chief, and allegedly prevented a commercial airliner carrying the general and 198 other passengers from landing in Pakistan.

The plane eventually landed after the army took control of Karachi airport. General Musharraf subsequently declared himself chief executive and arrested Mr Sharif.

The ousted prime minister was last month convicted of hijacking and terrorism, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He is currently being tried on separate corruption charges.

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See also:

22 Nov 99 | South Asia
Military takeover challenged in court
11 Nov 99 | South Asia
Pakistan's coup: The 17-hour victory
30 Nov 99 | South Asia
Analysis: Justice under scrutiny
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