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Pakistan power struggle heats up as elections near

Pakistan power struggle heats up as elections near

The power struggle that could unseat President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is heating up, as his main rivals dig in against his re-election plan and the government defends a ban on two exiled opposition leaders serving again as prime minister.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and is a key U.S. ally, plans to ask lawmakers in September or October to give him another five-year presidential term.
But his future is clouded by a clamor for an end to military rule, fallout from a lost battle against the judiciary and the plans of former premiers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to mount a dramatic political comeback.
Bhutto is trying to negotiate a deal to share power with the embattled general after year-end parliamentary elections, but Sharif has denounced him as a dictator who must be removed from the political scene.
Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party insisted Tuesday that it was not involved in reported talks in London with envoys sent by Musharraf.
"If they do contact us, we will provide a principled stance that Musharraf and democracy cannot go together and Musharraf must announce that he is not a candidate for any office," spokesman Nadir Chaudhari told The Associated Press.
The PML-N and Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party have scheduled crunch meetings in the next few days in the British capital _ where the two former premiers have been living _ to decide when their leaders will return.
In the past, Musharraf vowed to prevent them from re-entering Pakistan. He blames them for the corruption and economic problems that nearly bankrupted the country in the 1990s, when Bhutto and Sharif each had two short-lived turns as prime minister.
But with the United States pressing for more democracy as well as redoubled effort against al-Qaida and Taliban militants near the Afghan border, the general recently began calling for political reconciliation and an alliance of moderates to defeat extremists.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the government had been in touch with all major political parties in order to "improve the political atmosphere."
However, he also said the government had no plan to lift the constitutional bar on prime ministers serving more than twice _ a prohibition introduced by Musharraf.
Musharraf has seen his authority greatly eroded since March, when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the Supreme Court's top judge. The move triggered protests that snowballed into a broad campaign against Musharraf's rule.
The court reinstated the judge in July.
Last week, the court ruled that Sharif can come home, despite a promise in 2000 that he would stay away for a decade in return for his release from jail.
Bhutto says she is ready to compromise with Musharraf in order to keep nuclear-armed Pakistan stable.
She has demanded that he give up some of his sweeping powers and waive corruption cases still pending against her, as well as let her run again for prime minister.
Bhutto has set a Friday deadline for Musharraf to make tangible concessions.
But Musharraf has insisted he can legally hold on to his uniform at least until the end of the year.


Updated : 2021-04-17 07:13 GMT+08:00