Pressure mounts against Musharraf

The assembly in Pakistan's most powerful province today declared President Pervez Musharraf unfit for office and demanded he step down.

The resolution passed by 321 votes to 25 by the Punjab assembly has no constitutional weight, but is intended to crank up political pressure on Musharraf as the ruling coalition gears up to impeach him.

Lawmakers chanted "Go Musharraf Go!" for several minutes, as the result was announced in Lahore.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. After eight years of domination, he has been sidelined after foes swept elections in February and set up a new government. The former army chief, the longtime US ally, has shown no sign of quitting.

The resolution accused him of violating the constitution, gross misconduct and economic mismanagement.

It calls on the president to seek a vote of confidence from federal and provincial lawmakers or resign. Otherwise the assembly will ask Parliament to impeach him.

In a sign of weakening support for the president, some 35 lawmakers from the pro-Musharraf party — who several weeks ago signaled their willingness to defect to a coalition party — voted in favor of the resolution. Some 23 others were absent from the voting.

The other three provincial assemblies are expected to tackle similar resolutions in the coming days after which an impeachment motion would be brought up in the federal Parliament.

The National Assembly, or lower house, convened in Islamabad for a new session on Monday, as coalition officials huddled to prepare a "charge sheet" against Musharraf.

No president has been impeached in Pakistan's turbulent 61-year history. The coalition claims it can get the two-thirds majority required in a joint sitting of both houses in parliament to strip Musharraf of the presidency.

His allies dispute that and say he will fight the charges.

Musharraf's spokesman on Sunday declared the president had a "clean track record" and would not resign.

The chief of the ruling party has reportedly accused Musharraf of misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid intended for the Pakistani military for supporting the war on terrorism.

"They claim it's been going in budget support, but that's not the answer. We're talking about US$700 million a year missing. The rest has been taken by 'Mush' for some scheme or other and we've got to find it," Asif Ali Zardari was quoted as telling Britain's Sunday Times.

Zardari claimed the American aid may have gone to fund rogue members of Pakistani intelligence — recently accused by US officials of supporting pro-Taliban militants fighting in Afghanistan.

Musharraf supporters responded with exasperation on Monday to the reported comments from Zardari, who was labeled "Mr. Ten Percent" for alleged corruption during the two governments of his late wife and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Tariq Azeem, spokesman for the main pro-Musharraf party, said the charges against Musharraf were "baseless" and would only redouble the president's resolve to rebut the charges.

"Absolutely President Musharraf will prove all this wrong. There is no way he will quit now quietly while being blamed for corruption," he said.

Azeem also rejected claims from chief government spokeswoman Sherry Rehman that several federal lawmakers from the pro-Musharraf party were ready to support his impeachment.

Rehman contended that lawmakers would want to "to be remembered on the right side of history. They don't want to be remembered against democratic forces."

Azeem retorted that a block of about 30 lawmakers in Zardari's own party were against the impeachment.

"The People's Party should keep its own house in order before making claims about our rank and file," he said.

Analysts say a vote to oust Musharraf would be close-run. The president also retains the right to dismiss Parliament and the prime minister, but such moves would be contentious and require support from the army, which has indicated it wants to stay out of politics.

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