Sharif vows to restore sacked Pakistani judges

ISLAMABAD  – Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif joined a protest by lawyers on Thursday and vowed that judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf would be reinstated if his party came to power.

Sharif’s party did surprisingly well in Monday’s election, finishing second to the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The main party that backs Musharraf, who took power in 1999 when he ousted Sharif in a coup, suffered big losses.

Sharif made the reinstatement of judges the main element of his campaign and has repeated that demand since the election.

The judges were purged in November because they were seen as hostile to Musharraf.

Sharif and Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who now leads her party, are due to meet later on Thursday to begin negotiations on a coalition that could force Musharraf from power.

Lawyers protested in several cities on Thursday to reinforce their demand for the reinstatement of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges dismissed when Musharraf imposed emergency rule in November.

“The time has come to take Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges to their chambers in court,” Sharif told a crowd of about 150 lawyers gathered on a road leading to Chaudhry’s Islamabad house, where he has been detained with his family since November.

He told the cheering crowd Musharraf’s rule was “illegal and unconstitutional”.

Musharraf, an important U.S. ally, has refused to reinstate the judges. He sacked them when he imposed emergency rule just before they had been expected to rule that his October re-election as president while still army chief was unconstitutional.

Zardari has been calling for the independence of the judiciary but, like Bhutto, has not been insisting on the reinstatement of the judges, saying the new parliament should decide their fate.

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