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Police arrest former Pakistani ruler Musharraf

Friday - 4/19/2013, 2:51am  ET

In this Monday, April 15, 2013 photo, Pakistan's former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf arrives under tight security to address his party supporters at his house in Islamabad, Pakistan. Musharraf and his security team pushed past policemen and sped away from a court in the country’s capital on Thursday after his bail was revoked in a case in which he is accused of treason. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

SEBASTIAN ABBOT
Associated Press

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Police arrested former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf overnight at his home in the capital, where he had holed up following a dramatic escape from court to avoid being detained, officials said Friday.

Musharraf fled Islamabad High Court in a speeding vehicle Thursday morning after a judge rejected his bail and ordered his arrest in connection with a case involving his decision to fire senior judges while in power. It was a new low in Musharraf's troubled return from self-imposed exile last month to make a political comeback in the upcoming parliamentary election.

Police arrested Musharraf overnight and presented him before a judge at Islamabad District Court on Friday morning, said police officer Mohammed Khalid. Local TV footage showed Musharraf entering district court in Islamabad amid a heavy security detachment of police and paramilitary soldiers.

The district court judge instructed police to keep Musharraf in their custody for two days and then present him before an anti-terrorism court, said one of his lawyers, Malik Qamar Afzal.

Officials have declared Musharraf's home on the outskirts of Islamabad a jail, which is allowed under the country's law, and he will be held there under house arrest, said police officer Mohammed Rafique.

Musharraf's legal team has said they will challenge the arrest order in the Supreme Court on Friday.

The decision by the police to arrest Musharraf ended an awkward situation in which the former military ruler was being protected by security forces while holed up in his house, but none of them made a move to detain him. They were likely awaiting orders from senior officials trying to figure out how to deal with a delicate situation.

Pakistan's government has been reluctant to wade into the controversy surrounding Musharraf since he returned from self-imposed exile last month, especially given his position as a former chief of the army, considered the most powerful institution in the country.

His return also presents complications for the current army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who may have to decide whether to intervene to protect Musharraf or watch him be prosecuted. If Musharraf is sent to prison, it would be the first time an army chief has been put behind bars in the country's 65-year history.

Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 and spent nearly a decade in power before being forced to step down in 2008. He returned last month after four years in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai despite legal challenges and Taliban death threats.

But he has received paltry public support, and earlier this week was disqualified from running in the May 11 election because of his actions while in power. A court has also barred him from leaving the country.

The upcoming vote is historic because it will mark the first time in Pakistan that parliament has completed its full five-year term and handed over power in democratic elections. The country has experienced three military coups and constant political instability since it was founded in 1947.

Thursday's case before the Islamabad High Court involved Musharraf's decision to dismiss senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, when he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution in 2007. He was concerned the judges would challenge his recent re-election as president, and cited the growing Taliban insurgency in the country as justification for the state of emergency.

The man who filed the petition before the Islamabad High Court, Aslam Ghuman, also accused Musharraf of placing the judges under house arrest.

Musharraf's spokeswoman, Aasia Ishaq, denied he issued an arrest order, even though the judges were clearly confined to their homes. Government officials at the time claimed they restricted the movement of the judges for their own security.

Musharraf's crackdown on the judges outraged many Pakistanis, and fueled a nationwide protest movement by lawyers that eventually resulted in him stepping down under the threat of impeachment.

Before he returned to the country, Musharraf was granted bail for the judges' case and two others, meaning he could not be arrested when he landed -- a feature of Pakistan's legal system. But the bail agreement was temporary.

An Islamabad High Court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who had extended the bail agreement once on April 12, refused to do so again Thursday and ordered Musharraf's arrest, according to a copy of the court order. The judge ordered Musharraf to be investigated under an anti-terrorism law, which does not allow bail, the order said.

Siddiqui wrote that Musharraf's "shameful" decision to arrest judges "spread fear in society ... and terror throughout Pakistan."

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