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Musharraf ‘heart problem’ on way to trial sparks shift buzz

Pervez Musharraf

Islamabad, Jan. 2: Pervez Musharraf today suffered a “heart problem” on way to a treason hearing in Rawalpindi through a fortress-like route lined with 16,000 troops, according to his lawyers and police, and a local channel said doctors were considering shifting him abroad.

“Musharraf has been shifted to Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (in Rawalpindi) where a team of senior doctors examined him,” a senior officer said.

Pakistan’s private Geo TV quoted an eyewitness as saying the 70-year-old was unconscious when he was driven to the army hospital and admitted to its coronary care unit.

But Musharraf’s spokesperson Raza Bokhari contested the account. He claimed the former President was conscious and was being examined by military doctors.

Geo TV quoted sources close to Musharraf later in the day as saying that the doctors were the considering the option of shifting him abroad for specialised treatment. “His wife Sehba has reached the hospital while daughter Aeliya is on way from Karachi,” a source said.

Officials said Musharraf’s condition deteriorated minutes after he left his heavily guarded Islamabad home to appear before the Rawalpindi special court, around 20km away, where he had failed to appear twice earlier citing security fears.

The court had instructed his lawyers to ensure his appearance today and said it would be forced to issue arrest warrants if he didn’t.

The police had recovered explosive materials and detonators near Musharraf’s home on two occasions earlier. His lawyers have repeatedly described the treason allegations as “politically motivated” and demanded better security.

One of Musharraf’s lawyers, Anwar Mansoor Khan, had told the court earlier he was being harassed and claimed threats from the government of Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf had deposed in a 1999 military coup when he was army chief. He later became President and ruled until 2008.

Today, around 1,600 security personnel, including police and paramilitary rangers, had been deployed along the route from the former dictator’s home to the court. All pedestrian and vehicular traffic was stopped.

Musharraf’s convoy leaves his residence in Islamabad on Thursday. (AP)

Jan Muhammad, a senior police officer in charge of Musharraf’s security, informed the court today that he had suffered a “a heart problem” when the panel of three judges asked why the ex-army chief had failed to appear for the third time.

But Akram Sheikh, a government prosecutor, said that Musharraf was using illness as an excuse to avoid the hearing.

Musharraf’s lawyers denied the charges. “If you are aware of his temperament, he is not one to be scared,” Ahmad Raza Khan Qasuri, one lawyer, said. “He knew these political jokers will make false cases against him. He will be honourably acquitted.”

Rana Ijaz, another of Musharraf’s lawyers, alleged that Sheikh, a prosecutor generally seen as sympathetic to Prime Minister Sharif, was planning to throw a shoe at Musharraf to humiliate the former ruler.

The treason trial is the latest in the string of cases Musharraf has been facing since returning from a self-imposed exile in March last year. He has been on bail in a series of cases, including one related to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

The treason charges relate to his imposition of a state of emergency in 2007, when Musharraf was manoeuvring to extend his rule in the face of growing opposition from the public and the judiciary.

The treason case — unprecedented in the country’s history — is being closely watched for any impact on the relationship between Pakistan's three power centres — the military, an increasingly assertive judiciary and the fledgling civilian government.

There is concern that the trial of the former military leader could anger the army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half its history since independence in 1947.

Musharraf had recently said the army supported him, though the military leadership has given no indication that it might intervene in the trial.

He was barred from contesting the parliamentary elections last May, when Sharif came swept back to power, because of the cases.

Despite getting bail in all cases, Musharraf has remained under heavy guard at his plush villa in Shehzad Town on the outskirts of Islamabad because of security threats.

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