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Pakistan's Musharraf Lifts State of Emergency


Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has lifted the controversial state of emergency he imposed in early November, an action that could see restrictions on the news media eased. The action came shortly after Mr. Musharraf amended the country's constitution to legalize his moves to stay in power and silence his opponents. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.

The constitutional amendments made late Friday were aimed at securing Mr. Musharraf's controversial presidency, and legalizing the emergency decree that he lacked the legal authority to issue.

The changes also legalize Mr. Musharraf's purging the judiciary of judges opposed to his extra-legal actions.

Retired General Talat Masood says the moves by the president were aimed at pre-empting any legal challenge to his status.

"He has tried to make it as legally fool-proof as possible, once the emergency is lifted, that there is no clause in the constitution that could debar him from staying in power," Masood said.

Attorney General Malik Mohammad Qayyum told VOA Saturday that rights of individual expression taken away during the six-week emergency will now be restored, and some media restrictions might be lifted.

"After the restoration of fundamental rights, it might be very difficult to sustain such a restriction that has been placed on the media," he said.

Legal experts and political opponents asserted earlier this year that it was unconstitutional for President Musharraf to run for re-election while he was still head of the military.

He did resign his military post, but only after declaring a state of emergency and firing the Supreme Court when it appeared the justices were preparing to rule his candidacy illegal.

His re-election was confirmed by a new, hand-picked set of justices, and he then he stepped down as army chief of staff.

Following his emergency decree on November 3, he fired more than fifty judges across the nation, arrested hundreds of his political opponents, and shut down media that criticized his actions. Some opponents, including the former chief justice, are still under house arrest.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next month, nominally returning the nation to democratic rule more than eight years after then-General Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup.

His critics charge that he is rigging the election in order to keep himself and his supporters in power.

Mr. Musharraf is due to address the nation Saturday evening.

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