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Pakistani Opposition Hails Return of Deposed Justices


Pakistan's opposition is celebrating victory after the government agreed to restore deposed Supreme Court justices in an effort to defuse a growing political crisis.

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif welcomed what he called a "historic" achievement Monday, and promptly called off a mass protest march on the capital, Islamabad.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced the decision in a televised address at dawn.

He said the justices, including the popular deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, would be reinstated Saturday.

Mr. Gilani also ordered the release of all lawyers and activists arrested in a recent crackdown on anti-government protests.

The government had come under intense Western pressure to end the standoff with the opposition, which pushed Pakistan to the brink of chaos.

The U.S. embassy in Islamabad welcomed Pakistan's decision Monday, calling it a "substantial step towards national reconciliation."

Pakistan's chief justice was fired in 2007 by then-President Pervez Musharraf, after pursuing a case challenging Mr. Musharraf's rule. Sixty other top justices also were fired, but most have been reinstated.

The current president, Asif Ali Zardari, had pledged to restore Chaudhry after taking office. But he broke that promise, stirring outcry from lawyers and the opposition led by Mr. Sharif.

On Sunday, Mr. Sharif -- a former prime minister -- accused the government of turning Pakistan into a "police state." He joined the lawyers' movement for an independent judiciary after the Supreme Court recently barred him and his brother from holding elected office.

Mr. Gilani says the government will review that decision.

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