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Pakistans leaders announce progress on reinstating judges
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    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Pakistani leaders reported progress Thursday in talks on how to restore judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf, signaling they had fended off a crisis that threatened to break up their month-old coalition government.
    However, they did not announce a final accord on the matter, though details of the talks were promised by Friday.
    Asif Ali Zardari, the widower and political successor of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wrapped up two days of marathon talks Thursday at a Dubai hotel.
    Sharif said there had been ‘‘substantive progress’’ and that the judges would be restored through a parliamentary resolution. He said judicial reforms demanded by Zardari were a ‘‘separate issue’’ but that he would announce details on Friday after a party meeting in his home city of Lahore.
    ‘‘You will be satisfied with the progress we made,’’ said Sharif, who praised Zardari for making the dialogue ‘‘fruitful.’’
    A smiling Zardari batted away reporters’ questions as he stepped into a limousine outside the hotel. However, Information Minister Sherry Rehman, a party colleague, said: ‘‘We will not disappoint people, as the leaders said that the judges will be restored and the coalition will remain intact.’’
    The parties in the coalition came to power after defeating allies of the U.S.-backed Musharraf in February elections, returning Pakistan to democracy after eight years of military rule. A break in the coalition could bring dangerous instability to a country key to U.S. goals in the war on terrorist groups.
    Some analysts say Musharraf might have to quit if the judges are restored and they begin re-examining complaints that he was ineligible for another five-year term.
    A collapse of the government, on the other hand, could bring Musharraf a reprieve. Already, the main pro-Musharraf party is evaluating its options. It has said it will work on its own proposal for restoring the judges and consider joining a new ruling coalition if the current one breaks up.
    Musharraf ousted some 60 senior judges — including then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry — when he imposed a state of emergency in November to stop legal challenges to his re-election as president.
    Zardari and Sharif built their coalition on a pledge to reinstate the judges by the end of April, but Wednesday’s deadline passed without any public agreement on how to do it.
    The larger coalition party, led by Zardari, wants to link the restoration of judges to a package of judicial reforms which could limit Chaudhry’s tenure and powers. Sharif has resisted that initiative, insisting parliament can go ahead with the resolution.
    The fate of the deposed chief justice is a key issue being discussed by the two parties.
    Chaudhry had shown an unusual degree of independence, blocking government privatization deals and investigating complaints that its spy agencies were holding opposition activists secretly under the cover of fighting international terrorism.
    Musharraf accused the chief justice of corruption and conspiring against him and his plans to guide Pakistan back to democracy. Zardari has accused Chaudhry and other judges of ‘‘playing politics’’ and failing to deliver justice to him during the years he spent in jail on unproven corruption charges.
    Sharif, who was ousted in a 1999 coup by Musharraf, has pushed particularly hard for Chaudhry’s reinstatement, stirring speculation that he sees him as an ally in a drive to oust Musharraf.
    Meanwhile, Pakistan freed a U.S. national after holding him in jail for more than two years on weapons charges, the man’s lawyer said Thursday.
    Safdar Sarki leads a group campaigning for a separate homeland for ethnic Sindhis in southern Pakistan. He holds dual Pakistani-U.S. citizenship and his lawyer said he owns a motel in El Campo, Texas.
    According to lawyer Mohammad Khan Shaikh, Sarki returned to his home in the Pakistani city of Jacobabad on Thursday. He was detained Feb. 24, 2006, and later charged with illegally possessing weapons and explosives. A court ordered Sarki released Wednesday after authorities dropped the charges.
    Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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