March 25, 2008
Pakistan’s New Premier Frees Detained Judges
By SALMAN MASOOD
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — To thunderous applause from fellow lawmakers and a packed visitors gallery, the newly chosen prime minister of Pakistan on Monday immediately released all the judges detained by President Pervez Musharraf when he imposed emergency rule last year.
In a wildly ebullient parliamentary session with a heavy anti-Musharraf mood, the new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani of the Pakistan Peoples Party, also said he would seek a formal United Nations inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former party leader and former prime minister killed during a public appearance Dec. 27.
“Our slain leader Benazir Bhutto sacrificed her life for the cause of democracy and now it is our responsibility to strengthen the democratic institutions in line with the aspirations of common people", Mr. Gillani said.
His first acts as prime minister came shortly after Mr. Gillani was officially chosen by an overwhelming majority of legislators in the 342-seat lower house of the parliament. He won 264 votes while his challenger, Chaudhry Pervez Ilahi of Pakistan Muslim League, an ally of President Musharraf, got 42.
Mr. Gillani, 55, a politician from Punjab province, was named as the prime ministerial candidate by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Ms. Bhutto and the co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, over the weekend.
He will lead a coalition of political parties opposed to the rule of President Musharraf, the former general who came to power in a military coup nine years ago and is considered an important ally of the United States in the war against terrorism but is increasingly unpopular in his own country.
Public sentiment here has turned sharply and steadily against President Musharraf ever since he tried to dismiss Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, last fall. In the general elections held early this year, opposition parties were victorious.
Mr. Gillani will formally take oath from President Musharraf on Tuesday.
As Dr. Fehmida Mirza, the speaker of the national assembly, announced the result of voting and Mr. Gillani shook hands with members of the parliament, the assembly hall erupted with anti-Musharraf slogans.
Mr. Gillani, wearing a dark blue business suite, proceeded to shake hands with a teary-eyed Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 19-year old son of Mrs. Bhutto, who is the other co-chairman, with his father, of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
For several minutes, guests in the visitors’ galleries shouted “Go Musharraf, Go!” and “’Bhutto lives on!” as many members of the parliament also joined in.
In a sign that the new parliament will increasingly assert itself and reverse the President Musharraf’s policies, Mr. Gillani made his first order of business an order freeing the detained judges. That proclamation received deafening applause from the members of the parliament and the guests sitting in the visitors’ section.
The new governing coalition had pledged to reinstate Justice Chaudhry within 30 days of taking office as well as the 13 other Supreme Court judges and 48 High Court judges who were dismissed by Mr. Musharraf.
Later in the evening, Justice Chaudhry emerged on the balcony of his house in Islamabad’s Judges Enclave—his first public appearance after being put under house arrest last November. The barricades and barbed wire outside his residence were removed by the police. Wearing a black shalwar qameez, the traditional Pakistani dress, a smiling Mr. Chaudhry waved at a large throng of crowd that had gathered to get a glimpse of him.Jubilant supporters and political parties’ workers danced on the beating of drum.
“I and my colleagues don’t have the words to thank you for the way you have struggled in the past five months," Mr. Chaudhry said, addressing his supporters. “Our destination still lies ahead and we have to proceed cautiously so that there are no obstacles in the path to our destination.”
Opponents of Mr. Musharraf reiterated their demand that Mr. Musharraf to step down. "There was consensus on one thing between the members of the parliament and the guests in the visitors’ galleries and that was: ‘Go Musharraf, Go,’”, said Ahsan Iqbal, a member of the parliament from Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
New Pakistan PM Elected, Judges Freed - CBS
Pakistan's New Prime Minister Orders Judges' Release - Bloomberg