Islamabad, Pakistan — The deposed chief justice emerged from house arrest Monday after Pakistan's new prime minister ordered police to pull back razor-wire barricades and release judges ousted last year by President Pervez Musharraf.
The judge's appearance on the balcony of his Islamabad villa drew cheers from hundreds of flag-waving, drum-beating supporters and dramatically underlined how power is slipping away from a stalwart U.S. ally.
Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and his family had been confined to the house since Musharraf declared a state of emergency in November and sacked 60 senior judges ahead of a Supreme Court ruling that could have invalidated his re-election as president.
"I have no words to thank you for the way you struggled for nearly five months for the enforcement of the rule of law and our constitution," said a beaming Chaudhry as lawyers and opposition activists clapped and threw rose petals.
Just two hours earlier, parliament had elected a loyalist of slain ex-leader Benazir Bhutto as Pakistan's new prime minister following a victory by Bhutto's party in February elections that dealt a crushing defeat to Musharraf's allies.
Yousaf Raza Gilani, a former house speaker who until two years ago was jailed under what he claims were politically motivated charges, beat the pro-Musharraf candidate, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, 264 votes to 42.
The new prime minister immediately shook hands with Bhutto's 19-year old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who watched from the VIP gallery, wiping tears from his face and smiling. His mother held the post of prime minister twice before she was killed in a suicide attack in December.
Cheers of "Long live Bhutto, BB is still alive!" rang out through parliament, as Gilani addressed the house for the first time as premier, saying he would seek a U.N. investigation into Bhutto's killing. He also ordered the immediate release of the detained judges, including Chaudhry.
"Democracy has been revived due to the sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto," he said, as lawmakers thumped their desks in approval.
"We didn't get here out of charity. This moment came because of continued struggle and martyrdom."
Gilani himself spent five years in prison under Musharraf on accusations of abusing his power in making appointments while parliament speaker. A court freed him in 2006.
Gilani, who will be sworn in by the president today, will form a government also comprising the party of Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted in Musharraf's 1999 coup.