Pakistan Judges Back Musharraf Re-Election

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's Supreme Court, packed with government-friendly judges since President Pervez Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule, dismissed on Monday the main challenges to his re-election last month.

Once the court clears Musharraf's Oct. 6 victory, he has vowed to quit as army chief and become a civilian president, although he remains under fire from the opposition and Western allies for setting back democracy in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Musharraf was due to visit Saudi Arabia this week, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said, after the News daily said it had "credible reports" that he would meet exiled opposition leader Nawaz Sharif there, fuelling speculation that the general might be seeking a deal.

But Sharif said he would not meet Musharraf, who deposed him eight years ago and sent him into exile.

In Islamabad, a 10-judge bench rejected five main challenges to Musharraf's right to contest the Oct. 6 election while still army chief. It rules on the final petition Thursday.

"The notification of the president's election cannot be issued because a petition is still pending. Hopefully, it will be done after that," Attorney-General Malik Qayyum said.

Musharraf's main aim in taking emergency powers was to purge the Supreme Court of men he feared would annul his re-election.

During Monday's proceedings, judges warned lawyers that they faced contempt charges and cancellation of their licenses if they persisted in challenging the legality of Musharraf's new bench.

Musharraf said Sunday that he was asking the Election Commission to call a parliamentary election on Jan. 8.

But he gave no date for lifting the emergency, despite hearing from U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte on Saturday that the election's credibility would suffer unless the emergency imposed on Nov. 3 was rolled back.

Negroponte was careful not to undermine Musharraf, a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban. But he stuck to Washington's position that thousands of people detained in the last two weeks should be released and curbs on the media should be lifted.