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Challenges to Musharraf Presidency Expected to Resume

A senior Pakistani lawyer says his colleagues will try to challenge the legitimacy of President Musharraf's re-election when Mr. Musharraf lifts the country's state of emergency. Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Abrar Hasan, a senior lawyer at Pakistan's Supreme Court, said in Hong Kong on Thursday that if President Musharraf ends the state of emergency as expected on Saturday and the constitution is restored, the country's lawyers are planning to challenge the legitimacy of his re-election in court.

"Then we will be able to agitate these questions before a court of law, that he was not a validly nominated candidate, he could not have been elected, he was not in power to send 40 judges to their homes, he was not empowered to arrest lawyers, he was not empowered to do all these things, he had not authority to occupy the presidency," said Hasan.

Before Mr. Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution in October, he was awaiting a ruling by the Supreme Court on whether his recent re-election was valid.

Reports from Pakistan say the justices were preparing to rule against him, and this played a role in the emergency decree. One of his first acts after the declaration was to purge the country's judiciary.

At least 27 senior judges were formally retired, among them one of Mr. Musharraf's fiercest critics, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry. The retired judges were replaced with Musharraf allies, who soon ruled that the election had been valid.

During street protests that followed the emergency decree, several hundred lawyers were arrested and detained nationwide.

Abrar Hasan was one of them. He says he spent 16 days in a Karachi prison. He says most of the other lawyers have by now been released following international pressure. But at least three are still under house arrest, including Tariq Mahmood, the former president of Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for January, nominally to restore democracy eight years after Mr. Musharraf, as head of the army, took power in a coup. But Hasan says elections cannot be free and fair under the current circumstances.

"The impacts of these arrests in fact has been very negative on the judiciary," he said. "They now are more or less compliant, they comply with everything - therefore we suspect that under these circumstances, it will not be free and fair elections in the country."

Hasan says most of Pakistan's lawyers have vowed to continue to work against President Musharraf until he reinstates the judges he deposed for challenging his re-election.

On Thursday, about a thousand lawyers rallied in the eastern city of Lahore, while 800 held a similar rally in the city of Multan.