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Pakistan's Musharraf appears in treason case

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MUNIR AHMED | February 18, 2014 04:51 AM EST | AP

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appeared Tuesday for the first time in front of a court tasked with deciding whether he committed high treason, in a sharp blow for a man who was once the most powerful in Pakistan.

The appearance, Musharraf's first in front of the court since proceedings started on Dec. 24, is also a blow to the prestige of the country's powerful military establishment. Pakistan has undergone three military-led coups since its inception in 1947 and has largely been perceived as above the law.

Musharraf was hospitalized on Jan. 2 after complaining of chest pains on the way to the Islamabad courthouse and petitioned to be allowed to go abroad for treatment. But the court rejected his request.

His failure to appear at court sparked speculation he would use the health scare as a way to leave the country but after the brief hearing Musharraf told an Associated Press reporter sitting in the court room that he was feeling "good."

Up until the minute that his heavily-armed convoy left the hospital in the nearby city of Rawalpindi where he was being treated, it was not clear whether the former four-star general would appear in front of the three-judge panel.

Wearing a traditional Pakistani outfit called the shalwar kameez, Musharraf entered the courtroom while some of the lawyers chanted slogans in support and clapped. When the judges entered the room, Musharraf stood up and saluted.

The judges had been expected to indict Musharraf if he appeared in court but during the brief hearing they said they would first decide a jurisdictional issue on Friday. The defense has said that since Musharraf was the chief of army staff, this civilian court does not have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

The defense has also been alleging that the legal process is a sham designed to railroad their client. They have challenged the objectivity of the judges hearing the case as well as the way the legal panel was formed.