ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistan's government said Tuesday it would challenge a court decision disqualifying key coalition partner Nawaz Sharif from standing in office, as protesters burned effigies in protest at the ban.
The announcement by Pakistani premier Yousuf Razai Gilani came as hundreds of supporters of two-time former premier Sharif protested outside parliament in Islamabad while others demonstrated in the central city of Multan.
A court in the eastern city of Lahore ruled late Monday that Sharif, ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 coup, was ineligible to stand in a by-election on Thursday because of previous criminal convictions.
"We will file an appeal in the Supreme Court against the ban on Nawaz Sharif standing in the by-election," Gilani, a senior member of the party of slain ex-PM Benazir Bhutto, told parliament.
"We will always take along our coalition partners and we will remain with them in all difficult times," he said, adding that the government would ask the election commission to postpone the by-election.
Law minister Farooq Naeq said the challenge would be filed on Wednesday.
The government's move was apparently aimed at consolidating the shaky coalition between Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party (PML-N) and Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), who together beat Musharraf's allies in elections in February.
The two parties are at odds over the possible impeachment of Musharraf and over the coalition's failure to honour its vow to restore judges sacked by the president during a state of emergency in November.
Sharif has called for Musharraf to be ousted from office and to be tried for treason.
MPs from Sharif's party walked out of parliament and held a demonstration outside the building to protest the court decision, where they were joined by supporters.
They shouted slogans including "The war will continue till the independence of the judiciary" and "We do not accept the rules of tyranny," an AFP reporter said.
"The judiciary was born from the womb of a dictator and has disqualified the country's most popular leader," party senior vice president Javed Hashmi told the crowd.
In Multan, around 300 people held a demonstration during which they burned an effigy of Musharraf and another one representing the judges appointed by him.
They also ripped apart a poster of the president's face with the words "American dog" written on it. Protests also erupted in several cities late Monday.
Sharif's party said earlier that it would not appeal because it did not recognise the judges, but it was not immediately clear if it would accept any successful challenge by the government following Gilani's announcement.
"It is our principled stand that we do not recognise the present supreme court as a constitutional court," PML-N spokesman Siddqul Farooq told AFP.
Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz, who is chief minister of Punjab province, were also not allowed to take part in the elections in February due to criminal convictions dating back to the 1999 coup.
A spokesman for the PPP, Farhatullah Babar, said the party was "disappointed" with the verdict disqualifying Sharif.
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