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Pakistan judge regains top post

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Celebrations outside Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's house

Pakistan's sacked Supreme Court chief justice has formally returned to his post following months of mass protests by opposition activists.

The Pakistani government ordered Iftikhar Chaudhry's reinstatement on Monday to stave off a huge rally planned by the opposition.

His return is being hailed as a victory for an independent judiciary.

Mr Chaudhry and 60 other judges were dismissed by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007.

Most have since been reinstated.

'Victory for judiciary'

Mr Chaudhry was formally restored to his post at midnight on Saturday.

The event was marked by a ceremonial flag-raising outside his house, where hundreds of lawyers and activists celebrated.

One lawyer told the BBC that they were celebrating because they had sustained "a popular, plural, democratic, tolerant, peaceful, non-violent movement" over two years.

Pakistani lawyers celebrate outside Iftikhar Chaudhry's house, 22 March 2009

"Those two years have required blood, they've required sweat, they've required tears, tear-gas," he said.

"For instance the baton charges, imprisonments, police brutality, everything - and we faced it."

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Monday that Mr Chaudhry would return to his job after current Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar quit the post.

But the government clearly acted under pressure from the opposition, who had staged mass protest rallies for several days, the BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says.

Mr Chaudhry was dismissed in 2007 by the-then military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, who feared the Supreme Court would disqualify him from contesting the presidential election while still wearing military uniform.

Government pledge

The chief justice's return could open up new battles for the presidency, she adds.

One reason for the failure to reinstate Mr Chaudhry until now is believed to be the fact that he challenged an amnesty given by Gen Musharraf that enabled Asif Ali Zardari to return to Pakistan, where he won presidential elections last year.

Iftikhar Chaudhry
Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges were sacked by Gen Musharraf

If the amnesty was overturned, Mr Zardari, the widower of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, could be left exposed to corruption charges.

The opposition protests and unrest had alarmed Western powers, and the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, hailed the government's decision to reinstate Mr Chaudhry.

Announcing the move, Prime Minister Gilani also said opposition activists and leaders detained over the past week of mounting disturbances would be freed and a ban on demonstrations in the capital and several provinces lifted.

The government in Islamabad also asked the Supreme Court to review a ruling that banned opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother from holding elected office.

On Sunday, Mr Gilani visited Mr Sharif at his home in Punjab, the first meeting between the two since the ban against the former prime minister.

"We are bringing an olive branch from the federal government," Mr Gilani said ahead of the meeting.

"We want to go through the reconciliation. I have come with a goodwill message."



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SEE ALSO
Profile: Iftikhar Chaudhry
12 Mar 09 |  South Asia

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