Pakistan court dismisses Musharraf medical request

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani court hearing the case against former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on charges of high treason rejected Friday a request that he be allowed to go abroad for treatment, his lawyer and a court official said.

Instead, they said, it issued an arrest warrant for the retired general. But the warrant is "bailable" — meaning he can avoid jail by applying for bail and depositing a bond of 2.5 million rupees (about $20,000). The court said it didn't have the authority to remove his name from the exit control list which restricts him from going abroad.

While Musharraf can't leave the country, it's unlikely he would actually end up in handcuffs immediately and still unclear whether he will ever appear in court — a scene that could be humiliating not just to Musharraf, but to the country's politically powerful military.

The judges' decision is the latest in the legal battles that Musharraf has faced ever since returning to his homeland in March 2013 to take part in the country's elections. Instead of returning to a hero's welcome, he was almost immediately hit with a barrage of cases, threats from the Pakistani Taliban and was disbarred from running in the election.

A lawyer for Musharraf, Mohammed Ali Saif, said the judges ruled that Musharraf must appear in court on Feb. 7.

"We are of the view that no reasonable excuse has been offered to justify the failure of the accused to appear before the court, there is no alternate except to issue a bailable warrant of arrest for the accused," said the court registrar Abdul Ghani Soomro, reading from the court's decision.

Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, but became deeply unpopular and was forced to step down in 2008. He later left the country. The high treason case stems from his 2007 decision to impose a state of emergency and detain judges.

He has failed to appear in a single hearing since the court proceedings started on Dec. 24, and on Jan. 2, as he was on his way to court, he instead took a detour to a military hospital in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, complaining of chest pains. That set off intense speculation that he was maneuvering to leave the country on medical grounds and avoid appearing in front of a civilian court on such a serious charge.

The high treason case is considered the most serious of the legal cases he's facing, and is considered especially galling for the military because it could potentially label one of their own as a traitor.

Musharraf has been a patient at the hospital ever since, and his legal team has pushed for him to be allowed to leave the country to seek medical treatment abroad. But the court in its decision Friday found that Musharraf hadn't provided sufficient reason to be excused from the court proceedings.

The judges hearing the treason case have said in the past that they had not moved aggressively to haul Musharraf into the court so as to save him considerable embarrassment, and their decision to issue a bailable arrest warrant Friday appeared to tread a fine line between affording him that extra courtesy while at the same time preventing him from leaving the country in the immediate future.

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Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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