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Pakistani court lifts Musharraf travel ban

By Syed Raza Hassan

KARACHI (Reuters) - A Pakistani court on Thursday ordered the government to lift a travel ban on former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, his lawyer said, paving the way for him to leave the country in 15 days' time.

Musharraf, who has faced a battery of court cases - including a charge of treason - since returning to Pakistan from exile last year, has been waiting since April for a decision to lift the travel ban.

His departure from Pakistan would remove a source of friction between the country's powerful generals and the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as well Pakistan's increasingly assertive judges.

"The travel ban on Musharraf has been struck down by the Sindh High Court," lawyer Farough Naseem said. "But the order will be effective after 15 days, during which time the government can appeal this decision in a higher court."

Sharif's government has so far resisted allowing Musharraf to leave the country, saying it is a decision for the courts. Musharraf deposed Sharif in a coup in 1999, and memories of that are still fresh in Sharif's team.

Musharraf's lawyers say the former ruler wants to travel abroad for treatment, and to visit his ailing mother in Dubai.

But many believe it is a ruse to flee the country and avoid punishment if convicted of charges over his suspension of the constitution and imposition of emergency rule in 2007, when he was trying to extend his tenure.

Musharraf, who seized power in 1999 and resigned in 2008, pleaded not guilty to five counts of treason in April.

The ex-general is also on bail in three other major cases, including the 2007 assassination of prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the murder of a Baluch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006.

The progression of the cases so far is a victory for the increasingly independent judiciary.

Judges are increasingly challenging the fledgling civilian government and even the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half its history since independence in 1947.

(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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