Musharraf may give up army post this weekend
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf could step down as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian president by Saturday or Sunday, a senior official said Wednesday.
If he takes off his uniform, Musharraf will meet one of the key demands ofhis closeally, theUnited States, and domestic opponents.
As part of the general's rollback of much-criticized restrictions under his suspension of the constitution on Nov. 3, the government has also freed nearly all of the thousands of people arrested under emergency rule, according to authorities.
Before Musharraf can be sworn in for his second five-year term, though, the Supreme Court must finish ruling on several annulment petitions.
The new judges, handpicked by Musharraf, struck down several petitions earlier in the week and are expected to strike down the last ones on Thursday.
"If it's done then the president may take an oath as a civilian president, as he has himself said, on Saturday or Sunday," Attorney General Malik Qayyum told Reuters.
Thousands released from jails
In recent days, the government has released thousands of people arrested for defying a ban on political demonstrations since emergency rule began.
On Wednesday, Pakistan's law minister said authorities have released 5,634 people from lockup and 623 in custody will also be released.
Among those released was cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who was detained last week andbegan a hunger strike Monday in protest of the emergency rule.
But there were fresh arrests Wednesday, including that of former Supreme Court judge Wajihuddin Ahmed, who was taken into custody in Islamabad. He was the only candidate against Musharraf in the disputed October presidential election.
Opponents have accused Musharraf of purging the Supreme Court ahead of a decision that would likely have annulled his re-election.
Pakistan asks Commonwealth for delay
Also on Wednesday, Pakistan asked the Commonwealth to delay its decision about whether to suspend the country from the 53-nation bloc.
In a phone call, caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro asked his British counterpart for a "short postponement," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed
Soomro "expressed concern that any precipitate decision by [the Commonwealth] on Pakistan's participation in the Commonwealth would be unfortunate" and urged the groupto send a delegation to Pakistan to find out more about the situation, Sadiq said.
The Commonwealth, made up of Britain and its former colonies, threatened to suspend Pakistan if the government didn't repeal emergency laws, restore the constitution, release political prisoners and have Musharraf step down as army chief by Nov. 22.
Pakistan was last kicked out of the organization in 1999, following Musharraf's bloodless coup. Five years passed before the country was reinstated in the key international forum.
With files from the Associated Press