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Pakistani court suspends inquiry

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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's Supreme Court has suspended a judicial inquiry into misconduct charges against Iftikhar Chaudhry, the country's top judge.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf suspended Chaudhry on March 9, accusing him of misusing his powers to secure a job for his son. The suspension triggered weeks of nationwide protests.

The Supreme Court found that a five-member panel investigating the charges against Chaudhry was biased and recommended that it oversee the case itself. Earlier, Chaudhry's lawyer had requested the court to oversee proceedings.

Acting Chief Justice Bagwan Das is expected to announce the top court's decision later Monday or Tuesday.

After his suspension, Chaudhry was placed under house arrest, outraging many Pakistanis and prompting massive protests by the country's attorneys who have boycotted the courts.

Chaudhry has since been released from house arrest.

According to Pakistan's Supreme Court bar and many legal experts, Musharraf does not have the constitutional power to remove the chief justice from the bench.

So far, 14 superior and civil court judges and two deputy attorney generals have resigned over the matter.

Chaudhry was appointed to the court by Musharraf in 2005, but recently started exercising independence from the government in a number of cases involving the disappearance of terror suspects and human rights activists.

The United States has tiptoed around the matter, partly because Musharraf is a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

Musharraf's critics accuse him of removing Chaudhry in an effort to intimidate the judiciary ahead of crucial elections and a vote in parliament to extend his rule later this year.

Musharraf seized power in a 1999 military coup and, since then, dissent against his government has been rare.


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