Musharraf Has Friendly Court's Backing

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A Pakistani Supreme Court stacked with judges loyal to President Pervez Musharraf cleared the way for him to rule as a civilian president, ruling Thursday against a final challenge blocking ratification of his re-election last month.

Stepping down as army chief could help Musharraf blunt harsh criticism from opposition parties and foreign governments of his imposition of a state of emergency on Nov. 3.

However, the party of former cricket star Imran Khan on Thursday became the first to decide to boycott elections that the West hopes will produce a moderate government able to turn a tide of Islamic militancy.

The court decision -- widely expected after Musharraf purged it of independent-minded judges -- means the Pakistani Election Commission can put a stamp of approval on the October vote that won Musharraf another five-year term.

The general has said that once he got a favorable court decision, he would quickly hang up his uniform and take the oath as a civilian. Pakistan's Attorney General, Malik Mohammed Qayyum, has said such a move could come as early as Saturday.

Thursday's ruling "means there is no challenge to his eligibility [to serve as president] and to the election," Qayyum told reporters. He said the court would issue a directive to election authorities on Friday ordering them to ratify the result.

After that, he said "the president will be free to take the oath" as a civilian president.