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Pakistan judge remands ex-president Musharraf in custody

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf meets journalists after attending the CLSA Investors Forum in Hong Kong in this September 15, 201
Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf meets journalists after attending the CLSA Investors Forum in Hong Kong in this September 15, 201

By Mubasher Bukhari

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani court remanded former president Pervez Musharraf in custody for two weeks on Saturday as judges pushed ahead with plans to put the former army chief on trial for a crackdown on the judiciary during his time in office.

Hundreds of lawyers jeered at Musharraf and scuffled with his supporters as he appeared at the Islamabad court a day after police arrested him at his home -- a breach with an unwritten rule in Pakistan that ex-generals are above the law.

The judge ruled that he be detained until his next court appearance on May 4. Musharraf's spokesman said authorities had decided that he would be placed under house arrest at his farmhouse residence on the edge of Islamabad.

"The government has declared Musharraf's farmhouse as the jail, and he will be moved there from police headquarters," said spokesman Mohammad Amjad.

Musharraf's appearance sparked chaotic scenes in the court complex as police formed a human chain to prevent protesting lawyers --- who chanted "Down with Musharraf" -- from getting closer to the former president.

Musharraf left the court after his brief appearance and returned to police headquarters, where he has been detained in a police guest house.

Musharraf is facing allegations that he overstepped his powers in a showdown with the judiciary in 2007 when he sacked the chief justice and placed judges under house arrest.

Musharraf's moves against the judiciary earned him widespread scorn among an increasingly activist cadre of lawyers and judges, who have themselves been accused of overstepping the normal limits of judicial authority in their confrontations with the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Musharraf's office issued a statement late on Friday saying the allegations were baseless and politically motivated.

Signaling the seriousness with which they view the case, judges have ruled that Musharraf must face trial in an anti-terrorism court, since detaining judges could be considered an attack on the state.

Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, resigned in 2008 and went into self-imposed exile in London and Dubai.

He returned to Pakistan last month to try to stage a return to public life by running for a National Assembly seat in a May 11 parliamentary election, but election officers disqualified him.

Instead of triggering a hoped-for groundswell of popular support, Musharraf became the first former army chief to be arrested in Pakistan when police took him into custody at their headquarters on Friday.

CHANGING BALANCE OF POWER

Musharraf's legal troubles have provided a stark symbol of the changing balance of power in Pakistan, where the military still retains enormous behind-the-scenes influence but has retreated from the overt meddling and coups of the past.

Pakistan is hoping to cement its transition from decades of military rule at the elections, the first transfer of power between elected civilian-led governments.

While the sight of a former army commander being arrested is sure to rankle some in the military, who see the armed forces as the only reliable guarantor of Pakistan's stability, Musharraf's ill-starred return has bemused some former comrades

Some officers believe senior figures in the military had tried to dissuade Musharraf from returning in the hope of avoiding the embarrassing sequence of arrest and rowdy court appearances which have received thorough coverage on Pakistan's television channels over the past two days.

However, the spectacle of Musharraf being arrested was nevertheless a surprise in a nation where the army still largely controls security policy and where support for the armed forces is equated with patriotism.

Musharraf faces other legal challenges, including allegations that he failed to provide adequate security to prevent the assassination of former primer minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. He has also been accused of treason for his decision to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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