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Fiery words from deposed justice

Pakistan's ex-top judge vowed to punish officials who obeyed Musharraf's emergency rule.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's deposed chief justice said yesterday that officials who bowed to President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule and ouster of judges last year would be "punished."

Two U.S. senators, meanwhile, arrived in Pakistan to show Washington's support for the new government in Islamabad amid disagreements in the coalition on how to resolve the issue of the judges.

Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry made his comments in the city of Faisalabad, where thousands of lawyers and other activists gathered to whip up support for a new round of protests aimed at pressuring the country's new coalition government to restore the jurists.

Musharraf, a retired army chief who seized power in a 1999 military coup, declared emergency rule in November and ousted several dozen judges to avoid legal challenges to his rule.

Anti-Musharraf parties came to power after winning February elections, forming a coalition that promised to restore the judges. But disputes over how to bring the judges back have pushed the coalition to the verge of collapse, clouding Pakistan's future as it faces a slowing economy and a persistent Islamic militancy.

Chaudhry told the lawyers in Faisalabad that the Supreme Court had passed an order aimed at countering Musharraf's actions on Nov. 3, the day the emergency was declared.

In an apparent reference to Musharraf and the judges he installed after the purge, Chaudhry promised that anyone who violated the court's order "will be punished no matter how big he is and whatever position he is attaining."

Chaudhry did not specify what he meant by punishment, but he lauded the lawyers for their "sacrifices" in support of the "rule of law."

His strong comments came hours after the main ruling Pakistan People's Party offered some details of a plan to reinstate the judges and change the constitution to reduce Musharraf's powers.

Party chief Asif Ali Zardari said he wanted to strip the president of the right to dissolve the country's parliament and to appoint military chiefs. But he also said Saturday he would "engage the presidency" to smooth the passage of the provisions.

"We have never accepted Musharraf as a constitutional president but always said that we will keep a working relationship," Zardari said, adding, "We intend to walk him away rather than impeach him away."

Yesterday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani - a member of Zardari's party - said the proposed package was not aimed at setting up a clash with Musharraf.

The debate in the coalition is being closely watched by the United States, which, though long a supporter of Musharraf's presidency, has said it wants the new government to succeed.

U.S. Sens. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) and Bob Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) visited Pakistan yesterday. They met with top officials, including Musharraf, Gilani, Zardari and Musharraf's successor as army boss, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the U.S. Embassy said.

"This visit is a signal of U.S. support for the new government," embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Colton said. She said a wide range of issues were discussed in the meetings.