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Pakistan's Musharraf ordered to appear in court

By Munir Ahmed

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9 2014 6:56 a.m. MST

Supporters of Pakistan's People Party chant slogans in favor of their leader and former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, outside a court in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Zardari has appeared before accountability court to defend National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) references on corruption charges.

B.K. Bangash, Associated Press

ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani court trying former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf for treason on Thursday ordered him to appear at a hearing next week, despite his lawyers saying he was too sick to attend.

The ruling was announced in Islamabad by court registrar Abdul Ghani Soomro, who also said that a medical report on Musharraf's health submitted earlier this week to the court indicated he had not suffered a heart attack as was rumored.

There was no immediate comment from Musharraf's spokesman or family, but one of his lawyers, Faisal Chaudhry, told reporters outside the court that the presence of the former military ruler was conditional on improvements in his health.

"Musharraf is not avoiding the courts," Chaudhry said, adding the former president was still being treated at a hospital in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near Islamabad.

Musharraf has been staying at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology since last week when authorities rushed him there instead of taking him to court for a hearing in his high treason case.

The prosecution has claimed the dramatic detour to the hospital was simply a ploy to avoid appearing in court. Musharraf's defense lawyers have been pushing for him to be exempt from proceedings altogether or even to be allowed to leave the country for treatment abroad.

According to the registrar, the judges examined a medical report submitted by the hospital and said Musharraf must appear on Jan. 16. The report, the judges concluded, did not reflect that Musharraf was "unable to appear before the court."

The medical report, Soomro said, noted that Musharraf had experienced "discomfort in his chest and left arm," which could have signaled a heart attack.

"But this turned out to be a false alarm," Soomro said.

Musharraf, 70, returned to Pakistan almost a year ago hoping to take part in the country's parliamentary election but was immediately embroiled in extensive legal problems relating to his near-decade in power. He took power in a bloodless coup in 1999 by ousting the government of Nawaz Sharif, now back in power.

Musharraf was forced to step down in 2008 when Sharif and the then ruling party of former President Asif Ali Zardari joined hands against him.

The high treason case, the most serious against him, relates to his 2007 decision to impose a state of emergency and detain a number of judges, including the country's chief justice. The move backfired, making Musharraf extremely unpopular amid widespread protests against his rule by the country's lawyers.

A copy of the medical report, seen by The Associated Press, said Musharraf was admitted to hospital with "uneasiness in the chest, sweating and discomfort in the left arm."

It said Musharraf suffered from coronary disease, an ailment of which his father had died. Since his hospitalization, Musharraf has made no public appearances and there has been rampant speculation in the media that he would be evacuated from the country under a medical pretense.

Musharraf's opponents, including Zardari, the former president who still heads the Pakistan People's Party, want him prosecuted for treason.

In contrast, Zardari himself appeared before a court in Islamabad on Thursday. The tribunal is investigating him for graft, and this was his first appearance in court since he stepped down last September. He has not yet been charged.

The court had opened five graft cases against him before Zardari became president. He enjoyed immunity from prosecution for the five years in office.

Thursday's hearing, which was later adjourned till Jan. 18, case relates to the construction of a polo field during his late wife's premiership in the early 1990s. Benazir Bhutto died in a militant attack in 2007.

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