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Pakistan Presidential Nominations Filed as Court Considers Musharraf's Eligibility


Nominations have been filed for candidates in Pakistan's October presidential election. The Supreme Court has ordered the government to release opposition party leaders and their supporters detained in the past few days. The court also is set to rule on whether Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf can run for re-election while remaining chief of the military. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and other government leaders nominated President Pervez Musharraf for re-election Thursday. Despite challenges in the Supreme Court over his eligibility, Mr. Aziz expressed confidence that Mr. Musharraf would be re-elected.

"It's a historic day for Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf is the candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League and its allies, and we are fully confident that he will succeed," Aziz said.

For a second week, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments from petitioners who say General Musharraf's bid for president is unconstitutional and he should first give up his position as chief of the military. The president has said he will give up the post, but only if he wins re-election.

Mr. Musharraf has lost considerable support since his attempt to fire the chief justice in July and the mass street demonstrations it sparked.

Police blocked main roads into Islamabad Thursday, and security forces surrounded the Supreme Court to prevent a repeat of those protests.

However, more than a hundred lawyers made it to the court to support the nomination for president of former Supreme Court Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed.

Ahmed is widely respected for choosing to resign rather than swear allegiance to Mr. Musharraf's government after he took power in a 1999 coup.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, nominated senior party member Makhdoom Amin Faheem for president.

Supporters of both opposition candidates have said they will withdraw from the race if the Supreme Court allows Mr. Musharraf to run for president while in uniform. The court is expected to make a decision on Friday.

Also Thursday, the chief justice ordered the release of all political party activists currently detained.

Police in the past week have arrested more than 100 opposition leaders and supporters, saying they might stir up trouble. The detentions underscore accusations that Mr. Musharraf's government has become increasingly authoritarian.

Information Minister Tariq Azim says the government will comply with the release order.

"Those who were put under preventive detention … I presume this applies to them. And, they should be released shortly…. We will abide by the decision of the courts," Azim said. "We have the highest respect for decisions made by the Supreme Court."

However, earlier this month, Mr. Musharraf's government ignored a Supreme Court ruling and deported former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a few hours after he returned to Pakistan to mount a challenge to Mr. Musharraf's rule.

Mr. Sharif's party supports former Justice Ahmed's candidacy, and is leading an alliance of legislators who have vowed to resign from office if Mr. Musharraf is allowed to run for president.

The resignations probably would not prevent Mr. Musharraf's re-election. His ruling party says he has enough support in the legislature to win.