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Pakistan reinstates chief justice

PAKISTAN'S government relented in a major confrontation with the opposition yesterday, agreeing to reinstate a fired Supreme Court chief justice whose fate had sparked street fights and raised fears of political instability.

A dawn announcement by the prime minister that Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry would be sworn back in on Saturday capped a night of high drama and led activist lawyers to drop their plans to march on the capital and stage a sit-in at Parliament later in the day.

The United States called the decision "statesmanlike," but it also was a significant concession that could weaken President Asif Ali Zardari, who had long refused to restore Chaudhry despite demands by lawyers and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.

Already, attempts to quell the protest movement ?? through arrests and bans on rallies ?? have triggered cracks in the ruling party. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's announcement also promised the restoration of a handful of other judges who had remained off the bench since former President Pervez Musharraf sacked them in 2007.

He further ordered the release of activists arrested over the past week and appealed for political reconciliation.

Jubilant supporters waved flags and cheered outside Chaudhry's Islamabad home after the announcement.


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