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Ex-Pakistan official blasts Musharraf as 'extremist'

Email|Print| Text size + By Matthew Pennington
Associated Press / January 31, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's deposed chief justice sharply criticized President Pervez Musharraf yesterday, calling him an "extremist general" for firing 60 judges and keeping his family - including his disabled 7-year-old son - under house arrest for three months.

Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry's letter, smuggled out of his Islamabad residence and addressed to Western nations, showed how the US-backed leader's harsh attacks on his critics are backfiring - leaving the president in more trouble as he struggles to cling onto power.

Musharraf has seen his popularity plummet since he first tried to fire the chief justice last March. He finally did so Nov. 3 after declaring a state of emergency in which he purged the judiciary when it was about to rule on whether he was eligible for another presidential term.

On a trip to Europe last week, Musharraf launched a propaganda offensive to revive his standing in the West, where he has long been valued as an ally against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. During the tour, he described the judge as "inept and corrupt."

In response, Chaudhry wrote a seven-page letter that was circulated yesterday at a news conference held by sympathetic lawyers and delivered to the Islamabad embassies of the United States, Britain, France, and the European Union. The lawyers would not reveal how they obtained the letter.

In it, Chaudhry questioned Musharraf's legitimacy as head of state, and accused him of illegally changing the constitution and "squashing the judiciary for his own personal advantage."

"Is there a precedent in history, all history, of 60 judges including three chief justices being dismissed and arrested at the whim of one man?" Chaudhry wrote. "This incredible outrage has happened in the 21st century at the hands of an extremist general out on a 'charm offensive' of Western capitals and one whom the West supports."

Perhaps most damaging for Musharraf was Chaudhry's description of his own detention, saying he, his wife, and three children - including Balaj Iftikhar, his 7-year-old physically disabled son - are even forbidden to step onto the front lawn of their Islamabad home as it is occupied by police.

"Barbed-wire barricades surround the residence and all phone lines are cut. Even the water connection to my residence has been periodically turned off. I am being persuaded to resign and to forego my office, which is what I am not prepared to do," Chaudhry wrote. He appealed to Western nations to investigate.

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