Pakistan government refuses to try Musharraf for treason

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Pakistan's caretaker government on Monday refused to put former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason, telling the Supreme Court that it was beyond its mandate.

The move will give at least temporary breathing room to Musharraf, who is already under house arrest in connection with one of three other cases dating back to his 1999-2008 period in office.

The cases are being heard in lower courts.

He has been threatened with death by the Taliban and barred from running in next month's general election, a humiliating blow to the retired general who returned home in March promising to "save" Pakistan after four years in exile.

"The caretaker government should avoid taking any controversial step and should not commit any process that is not reversible by the incoming elected government," the administration said in a statement read out in Pakistan's top court.

The Supreme Court is hearing a petition from lawyers demanding that Musharraf face trial for treason for subverting the constitution. In Pakistan only the state can initiate charges of treason, which can carry the death penalty.

The interim administration, which took office last month, is tasked with guiding the nuclear-armed country of 180 million towards the May 11 vote, which will mark a historic democratic transition of power in a country used to periods of military rule.

The administration will step down after the new elected government takes office and as a result said it had no mandate to order a trial of Musharraf for treason.

With less than three weeks to go, it said overseeing the vote was a full-time job, not least given the threat level against candidates. The Taliban have claimed a series of deadly attacks on politicians and political parties.

The government cautioned there was "no urgency" to try Musharraf and said it needed "to confine their work to day-to-day routine matters" and "maintain the status quo" for the incoming elected government.

Musharraf is serving his two-week arrest order in his luxury villa in the upmarket suburb of Chak Shahzad on the edge of Islamabad.

His arrest was ordered by an anti-terrorism court on Saturday in connection with the sacking of judges when he imposed emergency rule in November 2007.

On Sunday, his party spokesman said he had been confined to two rooms and stripped of his personal staff, with his lawyers also denied access.

Musharraf faces separate charges of conspiracy to murder opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and over the 2006 death of a Baluch rebel leader.

The Supreme Court adjourned hearing the treason petition until Tuesday and ordered the authorities to allow Musharraf's lawyers to meet him.

Presiding Judge Jawad S. Khwaja told the court: "It appears that the government is determined not to take any legal action in this matter."

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