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Pakistan's Musharraf can run for parliament

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ZARAR KHAN | April 7, 2013 10:38 AM EST | AP

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf was given approval Sunday to run for parliament next month, a victory for him in what has otherwise been a bumpy return to the country after more than four years in self-imposed exile.

Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999 but was forced to step down nearly a decade later, was greeted last month by only a couple thousand people at the airport in the southern city of Karachi when his plane landed from Dubai. The lackluster welcome was a sign, many analysts say, of how little support Musharraf has in his homeland.

Days after his arrival, an angry lawyer threw a shoe at Musharraf inside a court building in Karachi as he made his way to a courtroom to face a series of legal charges against him, including ones related to the 2007 assassination of former President Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf has avoided arrest because he arranged bail before he arrived, which is allowed in Pakistan's legal system.

On Monday, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a petition alleging Musharraf committed treason while in office by sacking the chief justice and suspending the constitution. He also faces death threats from the Pakistani Taliban, who hate the former leader because of his alliance with the United States to fight Islamic militants while in office.

Amid this political turbulence, Musharraf likely was relieved when election officials on Sunday authorized him to run for parliament in a remote northern district of the country. An aide to the former military strongman, Rashid Qureshi, said officials in Chitral, near the Afghan border, accepted Musharraf's nomination papers.

Musharraf is popular in Chitral because he directed development money there while in office and oversaw the completion of an important tunnel that connects the remote, mountainous area to the rest of the country.

Musharraf's nomination was rejected in two other parts of the country and is still pending in the capital, Islamabad. Pakistan's political system allows candidates to run for more than one seat at a time.

Pakistani Election Commission officials could not be reached for comment to explain why Musharraf is being allowed to run in one constituency after being rejected in others. The criteria that are used to determine whether someone is eligible to run for office are supposed to be uniform across the country.

Judge Syed Ikramullah rejected Musharraf's candidacy in an area of Karachi after the former leader failed to appear before the court to respond to objections raised by his opponents. His attorney, Shafiq Ahmad, appeared and told the court that Musharraf would appeal the rejection of his candidacy.

His nomination also was rejected in the district of Kasur in central Punjab province.

Opponents have filed objections against Musharraf, alleging he violated the constitution by overthrowing an elected government in 1999 and committing other offenses.

The May 11 election is historic because it will mark the first transition between two democratically elected governments in the 65-year history of Pakistan, a country that has experienced three military coups and constant political instability.

The impact of Musharraf's party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, in the election is expected to be minimal because of the perceived lack of support for the former ruler in the country.

The former military strongman stepped down from power in 2008 following the threat of impeachment by Pakistan's main political parties. He left the country shortly thereafter and returned on March 24.

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Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad contributed to this report.