Pakistan's Court Reinstates Ousted Prime Minister Sharif

NAWAZ SHARIF, who was dismissed as prime minister last month by Pakistan's president, suddenly finds himself returned to power by the country's Supreme Court.

In a 10-1 decision, the court's justices voted Wednesday to absolve Mr. Sharif of corruption charges leveled by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, and restored him to office along with his National Assembly.

This is the first time the court has restored a civilian government in the nation's history. The president last month dissolved the National Assembly and sacked Sharif on corruption charges after a three-month power struggle.

Sharif's 29-month-old government was the third to be dismissed by the president since martial law was lifted in 1984. When former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was removed in 1988, the court found in President Khan's favor and allowed his action to stand.

Ms. Bhutto has been campaigning for a return to power, and last month her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was named a minister in the interim government that followed Sharif's removal. His inclusion in the interim government brought talk of a rapprochement between Bhutto and the president.

Sharif yesterday sought Bhutto's support to defeat a no-confidence measure to be held in the National Assembly. But Bhutto responded with a challenge: "We will see how much support Sharif has in the house."

There seems little likelihood of cooperation between Sharif and Bhutto, given the latter's support for Khan's action last month.

Analysts here also speculated that Sharif might call early elections to solidify his power base against the president.

A POWER struggle emerged between the two leaders in January, when Sharif announced he would try to repeal the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, adopted under martial law, which gives the president the power to dissolve the National Assembly and dismiss the government.

It is not clear how the two men, who have become bitter foes, will fare after Sharif's restoration to power.

"We'll strictly abide by the constitution," said Shehbaz Sharif, the prime minister's brother and closest confidante, when asked about the future of the prime minister's relations with the president. But a senior official, speaking anonymously, said, "There's likely to be trouble when the two leading figures in the country find it hard to talk to each other."

Observers said the court's verdict could mark a turning point in strengthening the democratic tradition in Pakistan after more than 40 years of military rule.

Shortly after the verdict, crowds of jubilant supporters gathered around Sharif's home in Islamabad, shouting slogans of support.

Sharif himself described the event as an important occasion in the country's history, and one which had vindicated him. "The courts have proved that we were right," Sharif told his supporters.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, crowds of Sharif loyalists turned out in Lahore, Sharif's hometown, and distributed sweets to celebrate his comeback.

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