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Pakistan Court Dismisses Challenges to President Musharraf's Re-Election Bid

Pakistan's Supreme Court has dismissed a series of challenges to President Pervez Musharraf's re-election bid, paving the way for Mr. Musharraf to run in the October presidential election while still holding his post as chief of the military. Opposition parties had argued that General Musharraf should not be allowed to run for president while in uniform. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.

By a six-to-three vote, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed petitions that sought to declare Mr. Musharraf's re-election bid unconstitutional. No immediate explanation was given for the ruling, or why three justices dissented, other than a declaration saying the petitions were "not maintainable."

The ruling removes a major obstacle to Mr. Musharraf's plan to run for reelection as president on October 6 while remaining chief of Pakistan's powerful military. He has said he would give up the post if he wins the election.

Immediately after the ruling, representatives of opposition parties cried foul and said they would file legal objections to the ruling. Opposition parties have said they will resign from legislative assemblies in protest if Mr. Musharraf is allowed to run.

Munir Malik is head of the Supreme Court Bar Association, an organization of lawyers opposed to Mr. Musharraf's continued rule. Outside the Supreme Court building and surrounded by people upset with the verdict, he said they would take their protests to the streets on Saturday.

"We will march from the Supreme Court building at 9 a.m.," said Malik. "We have given a call to all sections of civil society and all the lawyers to join us… to join us from a march from here to the offices of the election commission."

Pakistan's election commission, its chairman was appointed by Mr. Musharraf, is to decide on the eligibility of presidential candidates Saturday, and is expected to verify Mr. Musharraf's candidacy.

The lawyers' association and the opposition Pakistan People's Party have nominated their own candidates for president, but said they would withdraw the nominations if Mr. Musharraf were allowed to run. Several other lesser-known candidates have also been nominated.

After the ruling was announced, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told a press briefing the government welcomed the decision.

Mr. Aziz says the government can now deal sternly with anyone who tries to interfere with the election.

Mr. Musharraf came to power in a 1999 military coup, and has been under pressure to step down and return Pakistan to civilian rule.

He is an important ally for the United States in the fight against terrorism, but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian and has failed to control Islamic extremists in the country.

Mr. Musharraf lost considerable public support after a failed attempt in July to fire the chief justice of the Supreme Court led to mass street protests.