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Pakistan president pardons minister Rehman Malik

Rehman Malik, Pakistan interior ministry chief speaks during a press conference in Islamabad on February 12, 2009
Rehman Malik is seen as an ally of President Zardari

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has issued a pardon for the country's interior minister, Rehman Malik, who was convicted of corruption in 2004.

The pardon came after the Lahore High Court dismissed Mr Malik's attempt to challenge the conviction.

The president used "discretionary powers" which allow him to pardon anyone convicted by a Pakistani court.

Correspondents say the issue highlights the continuing dispute between Pakistan's judiciary and the president.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says the dispute stems from what the government sees as the judiciary's interference in matters concerning executive authority.

The judiciary says that it is only acting in the public interest.

The stand-off began with the refusal of the president to reinstate Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and other judges, who were sacked in 2007 by former President Pervez Musharraf.

Although President Zardari's Pakistan People's Party was at the forefront of the fight to restore the judiciary after nationwide protests, he later backtracked on this promise, our correspondent says.

It was only after another campaign led by the opposition that President Zardari reinstated the sacked judges.

Amnesty quashed

Mr Malik is seen as a close ally of President Zardari and analysts say the move is likely to cause disquiet.

"Zardari's move to protect Malik will raise new controversy," retired judge Tariq Mahmood told the AFP news agency.

An amnesty introduced in 2007 by then President Musharraf quashed outstanding charges against top politicians and officials.

This move was widely seen as the basis for a power-sharing deal between Mr Musharraf and Mr Zardari's wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007.

But Pakistan's Supreme Court overturned the amnesty last December and has been demanding corruption cases resume ever since.

In March the Supreme Court threatened to jail the head of the country's anti-corruption agency unless he reopened hundreds of corruption cases.

Several of the pending cases involve President Zardari, although he is currently protected by presidential immunity.

But before taking office, he spent years in jail after corruption charges he says were politically motivated.



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