A senior member of a key party in Pakistan's shaky coalition government called Sunday for President Pervez Musharraf to step down for the "survival" of the country, a day after the former army strongman insisted he's not going anywhere.
Shahbaz Sharif blasted Musharraf the day he was elected the chief minister of Pakistan's most powerful province, Punjab. It was a position he had held before his brother, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was toppled by Musharraf in a 1999 military coup.
"In the larger interest of country and for its survival, I request that General Musharraf resign and go home," Sharif told an audience that chanted "Go, Musharraf, Go!"
The president's fate has been a key focus of squabbling in Pakistan's fractious coalition government, tension that comes as the country faces a dire economic situation and ongoing militancy in its regions bordering Afghanistan.
Both the parties of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari won February elections on anti-Musharraf platforms. But Sharif's party has been more vociferous, demanding Musharraf's impeachment, while Zardari's party has generally adopted a softer tone.
The coalition has already threatened to unravel because of a dispute between the two parties over how to restore dozens of judges sacked by Musharraf.
Earlier Sunday, Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesman for Sharif's party, called Musharraf "a virus in the democratic computer" and said Zardari's party should not hesitate to "join us for Musharraf's impeachment."
Fellow party member Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the party already had prepared a 10-point document to use against Musharraf "when the impeachment is taken up."
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Zardari's party, said only it would "consider" pushing for impeachment proceedings in light of Musharraf's defiance. However, he added, "Right now I can't say whether the party is going to go ahead with impeachment and if so when."
It was unclear whether the coalition could muster the two-thirds vote needed for Parliament to impeach Musharraf.
On Saturday, Musharraf _ a longtime U.S. ally in the war on terror _ deflected rising calls for his resignation and denied he planned to go into exile.
Although Musharraf insisted he would not leave under pressure, he indicated he would prefer to retire if the government succeeds in reducing his position to a ceremonial one.
"Parliament is supreme. Whatever the Parliament decides I will accept it," Musharraf said on Pakistani TV news.
"If I see that I don't have any role to play, then it is better to play golf," he said. "I cannot become a useless vegetable."
Sharif's party has in the past not only called for Musharraf's impeachment but also demanded he be tried for treason _ which carries the death penalty. But Zardari's party is unlikely to support such a tough course of action, which would upset Pakistan's allies in the West, including U.S. President George W. Bush, who has publicly backed Musharraf.
Musharraf appealed to political leaders to unite and address economic woes. Pakistan faces trade and budget deficits, double-digit inflation and severe electricity shortages.
The new government is also under pressure over its efforts to strike peace deals with militants in its border regions, agreements the U.S. worries will give extremists time to regroup and intensify attacks in Afghanistan.
This week, anti-Musharraf groups as well as members of Sharif's party intend to join mass demonstrations that lawyers have planned to protest the new government's failure to restore the judges Musharraf fired during a burst of emergency rule last year.
Associated Press writers Nahal Toosi and Zarar Khan contributed to this report.