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Pakistan Coalition Gives Musharraf Two-Day Ultimatum

Agence France Presse

ISLAMABAD  - Pakistan's ruling coalition tightened the screw on President Pervez Musharraf Sunday, saying that it had readied impeachment charges against him and was giving him two days to stand down.Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar told AFP that "the charge sheet will be presented in parliament by Tuesday". Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said a day earlier that Musharraf had to decide on quitting "by today or tomorrow."

The coalition finalised the charges on Sunday after intense deliberations and would present them on Monday to the alliance's leaders, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.

"It is a historic document," Rehman told reporters. She said it would be submitted to parliament as part of an impeachment resolution "this week" but did not elaborate.

A spokesman for Musharraf -- who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999 and went on to become a linchpin in the US-led "war on terror" -- has repeatedly denied that the president is going to resign.

But attorney general Malik Qayyum, a close confidant of Musharraf, said the president would wait until the impeachment motion is filed before choosing a course of action.

"Whether he quits or counters the impeachment move will be decided after he sees the charges," Qayyum told AFP, adding that challenging impeachment in the Supreme Court remained an option.

With Pakistan's powerful army taking a neutral stance towards its former chief, the court is the only institution Musharraf can still count on, as he purged it of opponents during a state of emergency last November.

Musharraf's other courses of action -- either dissolving the national assembly or imposing emergency rule again -- are fraught with risk.

Musharraf's allies and coalition officials have said separately that his aides are in talks with the government in a bid to secure him an indemnity from prosecution if he does throw in the towel.

Saudi Arabia and, reportedly, the United States and Britain, have sent envoys in a bid to resolve the crisis in the nuclear-armed nation, which is also suffering from a severe economic crunch.

A coalition source said fresh discussions were underway Sunday.

"The emissaries of Musharraf are still in contact with the government and as far as we know, Musharraf's aides are advising him either to resign seeking an assurance for indemnity or try the Supreme Court," the source told AFP.

The talks on getting immunity for Musharraf have also been hampered by the opposition of former premier Sharif, who leads the second biggest group in the coalition after the Pakistan People's Party of Benazir Bhutto, led by Zardari.

No president has ever been impeached in Pakistan's 61-year history.

The army's stance is still unclear and analysts say it could react badly to seeing its former leader humiliated by impeachment. Musharraf quit as army chief in November last year under international pressure.

The coalition is counting on independent MPs and defectors from Musharraf's camp to win the two-thirds combined majority it would need in the upper and lower houses of parliament to impeach him.

The White House has also struck a neutral tone, saying that the impeachment threat was an internal matter.

Western allies want Pakistan to resolve the impasse so it can deal with the fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where nearly 500 people have died in the past week.

Musharraf's popularity first slumped after he tried to sack the country's chief justice in March 2007.

His Supreme Court purge in November allowed him to force through his re-election to another five-year term by the outgoing parliament, but his political allies were then trounced in elections in February.

2008 Agence France Presse

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