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Pakistan court orders Musharraf's arrest

Police stand guard outside the residence of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, April 18, 2013
Pakistani police stand guard outside the residence of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after a court ordered his arrest in Islamabad on April 18, 2013.

A Pakistani court on Thursday ordered the arrest of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who immediately drove to his farmhouse on the edge of Islamabad, where he was guarded by police commandos.

Musharraf faced no resistance from a heavy security contingent at the court when he left the premises after the judge ordered his arrest over his controversial decision to dismiss judges when he imposed emergency rule in 2007.

Police guarded the main gate of the luxury property and blocked off access to Musharraf's street in the upmarket suburb of Chak Shahzad but did not push back a huge bevvy of TV trucks and other media camped outside the gate.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside to shout "this is injustice," and "long live Musharraf" as senior members of Musharraf's political party swept inside the house for talks, an AFP reporter said.

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf (C) leaves court in Rawalpindi, April 17, 2013
Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf (C) is escorted by security personnel as he leaves the court in Rawalpindi on April 17, 2013.

A spokesman for his All Pakistan Muslim League told AFP that Musharraf would appeal against the arrest order in the Supreme Court, but if the order is upheld, then he expected the authorities to put him under house arrest.

"Musharraf is composed and confident. We will go for an appeal in the Supreme Court today. If the court rejects our appeal, we will present ourselves to the law," APML spokesman Muhammad Amjad said.

"I think if an arrest is necessary, the authorities will declare the farmhouse a sub-jail," he added.

The Supreme Court is already hearing a separate petition from lawyers, demanding that Musharraf go on trial for treason for subverting the constitution by imposing emergency law in November 2007, a move which hastened his downfall.

His detractors have called for him to face the death penalty.

A Pakistani guard closes the gate to the party office of former president Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad,  April 16, 2013
A Pakistani security official closes the main gate to the party office of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on April 16, 2013.

A senior police official said on condition of anonymity that normal procedure would have been an immediate arrest at the court, but as no effort appeared to have been made to detain him there, house arrest was the most likely scenario.

"Since he left the court and nobody arrested him there his house will now most likely be declared as sub-jail and he will be put under house-arrest," he said.

The case is one of three against Musharraf in the Pakistani courts. He is also accused of conspiracy to murder opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and over the death of a Baluch rebel leader during a military operation in 206.

The retired general seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 which was widely welcomed at the time in Pakistan. He ruled until August 2008 but has had a rude awakening since returning home after four years of self-imposed exile on March 24.

He secured pre-arrest bail in connection with all three cases before leaving Dubai, but his welcome has been dismal ahead of the May 11 election.

Supporters of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf stand outside his residence in Islamabad on April 18, 2013
Supporters of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf stand outside his residence after a court ordered for his arrest in Islamabad on April 18, 2013.

On Tuesday, he was disqualified from running for parliament, ending his ambitions of a political comeback built on the promise that he alone could "save" the country from poverty and insecurity.

A day earlier, he told journalists that he was prepared to go to jail, if ordered by the courts, at a press conference meant to unveil his party manifesto but overshadowed by a barrage of questions about the cases against him.

The US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch called on the military authorities overseeing Musharraf's protection to ensure that he presents himself for arrest.

"General Musharraf's act today underscores his disregard for due legal process and indicates his assumption that as a former army chief and military dictator he can evade accountability for abuses," said Pakistan director, Ali Dayan Hasan.

"Continued military protection for General Musharraf will make a mockery of claims that Pakistan's armed forces support the rule of law and bring the military further disrepute that it can ill afford," he added.

On Wednesday, a court in Rawalpindi also extended his bail until April 24 over Bhutto's killing. The former prime minister died in a gun and suicide attack at the end of an election rally in the garrison city on December 27, 2007.

In 2010 a UN report said Bhutto's death could have been prevented and accused Musharraf's government of failing to give her adequate protection.

Bhutto's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is chairman of the outgoing Pakistan People's Party, has accused Musharraf of her murder.