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Pakistan's Deposed Judges Freed From House Arrest

Pakistan's deposed chief justice and other ousted high court judges have been freed from house arrest. The move was ordered by the new prime minister. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Islamabad this ratchets up tension between the incoming government and incumbent President Pervez Musharraf who has vowed the judges would never return to the bench.

Within minutes of a new prime minister being selected by Pakistan's parliament, it was clear that President Pervez Musharraf was losing more authority.

Mr. Yousuf Raza Gilani, in his first act as prime minister, ordered all deposed judges to be freed from house arrest. Barricades and barbed wire were moved aside in the judges' enclave in the capital.

The deposed chief justice of Pakistan and 60 other judges had been under house arrest in the compound and elsewhere for more than four months. Mr. Musharraf had replaced them with judges he considered less likely to invalidate his re-election as president. Mr. Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 military coup, was also army chief when the election was held last October.

Reporters and lawyers on Monday evening rushed into the judges' residential compound in Islamabad and headed to the home of the deposed chief judge, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Appearing with members of his family and supporters on his front balcony, the deposed chief judge thanked the people of Pakistan for what he called the five-month-long struggle for the rule of law. Mr. Chaudhry called for events to move forward in a "decent manner."

Members of bar associations in Pakistan's major cities had repeatedly protested Mr. Musharraf's tampering with the judiciary. That resulted in sometimes-violent clashes with police.

But the dispute between the legal community and the unpopular president is not over, because the judges have not been reinstated.

The two anti-Musharraf parties, which are cooperating to form a coalition government, have pledged to reinstate the judges within a month.

That could force the embattled president from office if the judges get to rule Mr. Musharraf's re-election as president for another five-year term was unconstitutional.