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Pakistan Chief Justice Declines to Sit on Panel Hearing Musharraf Election Challenge

Pakistan's Chief Justice has declined a request to have all 17 Supreme Court justices decide a case challenging the presidential re-election of Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on Wednesday evening ordered the current 11-member panel of judges to resume hearings on the case against President Musharraf's re-election. He rejected a request that all 17 justices in the court hear the case, which means he will not take part in it.

Petitioners argued that because the election challenge was such a serious matter, the full court should be involved in the proceedings.

But Attorney General Malik Qayum opposed an expansion, telling reporters earlier Wednesday that a decision about the panel size was made when the case was filed weeks ago.

"An application was filed before the chief justice to constitute a full court, which he has refused," he said. "So there is no need of sending the case back to the chief justice."

The court has said that President Musharraf's reelection victory earlier this month will only become official after the legal challenges are resolved.

President Musharraf tried to remove Chief Justice Chaudhry in March for allegedly abusing his office. The effort failed, and sparked mass protests denouncing Mr. Musharraf, and contributing to increased political uncertainty in Pakistan.

Mr. Musharraf ousted the civilian government in a coup in 1999. His opponents have argued in the court that he can not seek reelection as long as he remains a general and head of the army.

The president has said he will resign his military command after his re-election.