ISLAMABAD Pakistan's Supreme Court dismissed on Friday challenges to President Pervez Musharraf's bid to seek re-election, clearing a major hurdle for the army chief's expected victory in an October 6 vote.
Opposition supporters outside the court shouted their disapproval and threw tomatoes and eggs at the building after the decision in favor of Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup.
Despite the ruling, nuclear-armed Pakistan faces months of uncertainty as Musharraf tries to keep control of a country whose support for the United States is seen as crucial to the success of Western efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and battle al Qaeda.
Members of parliament and of provincial assemblies will vote for a president before the assemblies are dissolved for a general election due by mid-January.
Musharraf's ruling alliance is expected to suffer heavy losses in the general election, losing its parliamentary majority.
Opposition parties say they will resign their seats before the presidential vote, even though Musharraf has vowed to quit the army, his main source of power, soon after winning another term.
The court heard three petitions challenging Musharraf's right to hold the posts of president and army chief, the legality of being elected in uniform, and whether he can get a mandate from the outgoing parliament and provincial assemblies.
Judge Rana Bhagwandas, head of a nine-member bench, said six of the judges had rejected the challenges.
"These petitions are dismissed and not maintainable," he told the court.
Financial analysts said Pakistan's stock market investors would welcome the decision in favor of Musharraf, whose latest years in power have seen strong growth and surging share prices.
"The market should react very positively to this decision as a key element of uncertainty has been removed," said Asif Qureshi, head of research at Invisor Securities in Karachi.
Had the court blocked Musharraf's re-election, analysts say he might have imposed emergency rule or even martial law.
"ONE MINOR BATTLE"
Legal analysts said in ruling the three petitions "not maintainable" the Supreme Court was not saying they had no merit, but the Election Commission, not the Supreme Court, might be the appropriate forum to rule on them.
Lawyers opposed to Musharraf said they would take the fight to the commission and still hoped to block Musharraf's re-election.
"This was a setback, it was a disappointment, but it's a long road. It's a war, this was one minor battle," said lawyer Munir A. Malik.
Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who has held power-sharing talks with Musharraf, said her party would also file a legal challenge to his election while still army chief.
An alliance of opposition parties led by the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said its members would resign from assemblies on Tuesday in protest against Musharraf's re-election bid.
Bhutto, who has consistently opposed Musharraf's election while army chief, renewed a threat that her members might also resign unless her demands were met.
"If General Musharraf doesn't take steps towards democracy ... we will resign from this assembly in protest," she told Geo Television.
The resignations would not derail the vote -- Musharraf only needs to win most of the votes cast and his party holds a majority in parliament -- but they would rob it of credibility, especially if Bhutto's party also walked out.
In all, 43 candidates have filed papers to run in the presidential election. A final list will be published on Monday.
The two other main candidates are Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former judge who refused to swear allegiance to Musharraf after his coup, and a member of Bhutto's party, Makhdoom Amin Faheem.
(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider, Faisal Aziz and Augustine Anthony)