Musharraf will face impeachment bid

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The Independent Online

Pakistan's ruling coalition today announced it will seek the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, cranking up pressure on the US-backed former general to resign.

Ruling party chief Asif Ali Zardari declared the decision was "good news for democracy" in Pakistan.

Announcing a joint coalition statement after two days of talks, he also said the four provincial assemblies should move motions demanding Musharraf take a vote of confidence from lawmakers immediately.

"The coalition further decided that it will immediately initiate impeachment proceedings. The coalition leadership will present a charge sheet against Gen. Musharraf," Zardari told a news conference, along side leaders of the other coalition parties.

Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister in Musharraf's 1999 coup and is leader of the second largest coalition party, said, "I agree with what Mr. Zardari has said."

Despite his unpopularity in Pakistan, Musharraf has so far resisted calls to step down and insisted he will serve out his current five-year term after he was elected in a contentious parliamentary vote in October.

He dominated Pakistan for eight years, but ceded control of the powerful army last year and has been sidelined in government since the coalition parties trounced his allies in parliamentary elections in February.

Impeaching a president requires a two-thirds majority support of lawmakers in both houses of Parliament. Musharraf loyalists maintain the coalition would struggle to muster it, but Zardari expressed confidence they would succeed.

"We are optimistic that we will succeed," Zardari said. "We hope that 90 percent of the lawmakers will support us."

Tariq Azeem, a spokesman for the main pro-Musharraf opposition party, said it would oppose any impeachment of the president.

"We have backed him and voted for him so we are duty-bound to support him ... We will oppose impeachment."

He said there were more pressing issues facing the nation, including "runaway inflation" and sharp hikes in the price of food.

Azeem said he did not think the ruling coalition had the numbers in Parliament to impeach Musharraf, but conceded "things could go either way."

The ruling coalition has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, or lower house, but Musharraf's supporters retain about half the seats in the Senate, or upper house.

The rivals for power

*Asif Ali ZaRdari

Widower of Benazir Bhutto, assassinated leader of his Pakistan People's Party whose members dominate government coalition. Spent several years in jail on corruption charges, although a Swiss case against him was dropped under the agreement between President Musharraf and Ms Bhutto which led to her return from exile. Holds presidential ambitions despite party leadership being held by his son Bilawal.

*Nawaz Sharif

Former prime minister bent on revenge against President Musharraf who overthrew him in a 1999 coup, accusing him of corruption, and sending him into exile. Deported back to Saudi Arabia last September despite a court order allowing his return. Expected to block attempts by Zardari to become president. Pulled his Pakistani Muslim League-N ministers out of cabinet in May but says he still supports the coalition. By Omar Waraich in Islamabad