Ex-dictator Musharraf approved to run in Pakistan poll

CHITRAL, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistani poll officials on Sunday approved former military dictator Pervez Musharraf to run for parliament in the upcoming general election, despite a litany of legal challenges against him.

Mr Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan for nine years after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999, returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile on March 24, vowing to run for the May 11 poll in four constituencies.

He remains a hugely controversial figure nearly five years after he resigned in the face of impeachment proceedings and his All-Pakistan Muslim League party is not thought to be a serious contender for power at the polls.

In the far northern town of Chitral, close to the Afghan border, officials approved Mr Musharraf's candidature on Sunday, an AFP journalist witnessed.

"His papers are in order. He is not convicted so far so we cannot disqualify him," returning officer Jamal Khan said.

But in the retired general's home city of Karachi, officials turned down his nomination on charges of violating the constitution and sacking top judges.

Returning officer Ikramur Rehman upheld objections raised by his rivals that Mr Musharraf had violated the constitution and sacked top judges by imposing emergency rule in 2007.

"This is a biased decision," said Mr Afzal Agha, an official in Mr Musharraf's party, adding that an appeal would be filed.

Mr Musharraf's nomination papers were also rejected in the Punjab town of Kasur on Friday and a decision on his bid to contest a seat in Islamabad is expected late on Sunday.

There is no limit to the number of seats a candidate can contest in Pakistan and it is common practice for high-profile politicians to run in more than one at the same time.

Lawyer Sajidullah Khan vowed to challenge Mr Musharraf's candidature in Chitral.

"Musharraf is not eligible and we will lodge an appeal before the election tribunal," he said.

In office, Mr Musharraf was a key US ally in the "war on terror", an alliance that became deeply controversial in Pakistan, and escaped at least three Al-Qaeda assassination attempts.

Since he left power in 2008, his powerbase has shrivelled and last month he suffered the indignity of having a shoe thrown at him in court by an angry lawyer - a deeply insulting gesture in the Muslim world.

He is facing a barrage of legal cases, including conspiracy to murder.

He has been granted bail over the 2007 killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and a Baluch rebel leader in 2006, and for sacking and arresting judges in November 2007.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a petition asking for Mr Musharraf to be put on trial for treason for imposing emergency rule in 2007, a move that ultimately paved the way for his downfall.