- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — A longtime loyalist of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was elected Pakistan’s new prime minister yesterday and he immediately freed judges detained by President Pervez Musharraf.

The release of the judges was a powerful symbol of Mr. Musharraf’s slipping authority since Mrs. Bhutto’s party swept parliamentary elections last month.

The newly elected prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, will form a new government dominated by Mr. Musharraf’s foes, who have vowed to slash the U.S.-backed president’s sweeping powers and review his counterterrorism policies.

Minutes after parliament elected Mr. Gilani, dozens of political activists and lawyers climbed over a wall surrounding the home of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who had been under house arrest since November.

Mr. Chaudhry emerged onto a balcony smiling and he thanked supporters in his first public appearance since his detention. Riot police stood by as the intruders rallied on the justice’s front lawn.

The National Assembly voted 264-42 to elect Mr. Gilani, who told lawmakers he would demand the release of all judges detained under Mr. Musharraf. Soon afterward, deputy Islamabad commissioner Amir Ahmed said Mr. Gilani’s order had been implemented, Pakistan’s state-run news agency reported.

After the vote, Mr. Gilani shook hands with Mrs. Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who wiped tears from his face and smiled. His mother held the post of prime minister twice before being killed in a suicide attack in December.

Cheers of “Long live Bhutto, BB is still alive!” rang out through parliament. Fellow lawmakers embraced Mr. Gilani as he made his way to the prime minister’s lectern.

“Democracy has been revived due to the sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto,” Mr. Gilani told lawmakers. “We didn’t get here out of charity. This moment came because of continued struggle and martyrdom.”

The new government has promised to reinstate Mr. Chaudhry and other senior judges within 30 days — a move that could trigger a power struggle with Mr. Musharraf, a former army chief who seized power in a 1999 coup. Some believe it could prompt him to resign.

“I have no words to thank you for the way you struggled for nearly five months for the enforcement of the rule of law and our constitution,” Mr. Chaudhry said from his balcony.

Mr. Gilani, who will be sworn in today by Mr. Musharraf, said he first act as prime minister would be to seek a parliamentary resolution demanding a U.N. probe into Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination.

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