Gilani orders detained judges freed

Islamabad, March 24:

Newly-elected Pakistani premier Yousuf Raza Gilani today ordered the release of all judges detained after President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule last year.

“I order all the detained judges to be released immediately,” Gilani, a key aide of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, told parliament just moments after the national assembly voted him in as premier.

Musharraf sacked dozens of judges in November, fearing they could overturn his victory in a presidential election. Some, including former Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, remain in detention.

Earlier, Pakistan’s parliament today elected the staunch aide of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as the country’s new prime minister, setting up a showdown with US ally President Pervez Musharraf.

Gilani, a former parliament speaker who spent five years in jail under Musharraf’s regime, won the position as expected with a big majority from Bhutto’s party and its allies in the incoming coalition government. Supporters shouted “Long Live Bhutto!” and “Go, Musharraf, Go!” as the result was announced. Bhutto’s teenage son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, sitting in the public gallery, wiped away tears and then shook hands with Gilani.

“Yousuf Raza Gilani commands the majority of the members. Please come forward and take the seat of leader of the house,” parliamentary speaker Fahmida Mirza said.

Gilani won 264 votes in the 342-seat lower house of parliament, while pro-Musharraf candidate Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi secured 42 votes. There were several abstentions.

A report from Karachi said a Pakistani court today acquitted slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s widower of involvement in the 1996 murder of a retired judge, his lawyer said.

The case was the latest in a string of charges against Asif Ali Zardari that have been dropped by courts since Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party

won general elections last month. “The court acquitted Zardari as there was no evidence against him,” his lawyer, Shahadat Awan, told AFP after the hearing in the southern city of Karachi.

Zardari was charged with involvement in the killing of retired high court judge Nizam Ahmed and his son Nadeem Ahmed, a lawyer, 12 years ago in Karachi. Public prosecutor Naimat Randhawa said that the investigation failed to produce any evidence against Zardari.

Zardari spent eight years in prison on corruption charges dating back to Bhutto’s two spells as prime minister from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996 and was released on bail in late 2004.