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Opposition leaders agree to coalition

Latest update : 2008-03-09

Pakistan's former PM Nawaz Sharif joined the widower of Benazir Bhutto in signing a formal declaration on Sunday to form a coalition government. The two opposition leaders urged President Pervez Musharraf to convene parliament without delay.

BHURBAN, Pakistan, March 9 (Reuters) - Former Pakistani
prime minister Nawaz Sharif agreed on Sunday to join the late
Benazir Bhutto's party in a coalition, raising the prospect of a
government hostile to U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf.

In an ominous sign for Musharraf, Sharif and Asif Ali
Zardari, Bhutto's widower and the new leader of the Pakistan
People's Party (PPP), agreed to restore judges who Musharraf
dismissed when he imposed emergency rule in early November.

Bhutto's PPP won the most seats in a Feb. 18 general
election but not enough to rule alone. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim
League (Nawaz), or PML (N), party came second and while it had
promised to support the PPP, Sharif had not previously confirmed
his party would join the PPP in government.

"The coalition partners ... undertake to form a coalition
together for a democratic Pakistan," Sharif and Zardari, who
took over as PPP leader after Bhutto was assassinated on Dec.
27, said in their agreement.

Sharif read out the agreement at a news conference with
Zardari in the hill town of Bhurban, near Islamabad.

The dismissed judges, including the Supreme Court chief
justice, were seen as hostile to Musharraf's October re-election
by legislators for a new five-year term as president while he
was still army chief. The judges are likely to take up legal
challenges to Musharraf if they are restored.

The agreement between the PPP and PML (N) would appear to
dash any hope that Musharraf might have had that the party that
backs him, which came a poor third in the election, might be
part of a coalition.

The Awami Nationalist Party, an ethnic Pashtun nationalist
party which has emerged as a major group in the North West
Frontier Province by trouncing hardline Islamic groups, will
also be part of the PPP-led coalition.

The Jamaiat-e-ulema-e-Islam, a major Islamic party, has also
said it had agreed "in principle" to join the coalition.

Zardari and Sharif agreed the reappointment of the dismissed
judges would occur through a parliamentary resolution within 30
days of the formation of the government.

Musharraf quit as army chief in November, before being sworn
in as civilian president.

Western allies and Pakistan's neighbours, concerned about
instability in a nuclear-armed state already reeling from
suicide bombings by al Qaeda-inspired militants, fear more
political upheaval in the country in case of confrontation
between the president and new government.


Lawyers launched a week of protests on Sunday to press for
the restoration of the judges. Police fired tear gas at
protesters near the home of former chief justice Iftikhar
Chaudhry where he has been detained since November.

It was a year ago on Sunday that Musharraf first suspended
Chaudhry, touching off protests by lawyers and the opposition.

Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup, has been
calling for the unpopular president to step down, and on Sunday
said Musharraf should accept the people's verdict "against

Zardari was more conciliatory, saying he did not believe in
"personal agendas".

Musharraf has advised a new government to focus on fighting
terrorism and sustaining economic growth rather than politics.

Musharraf said last week it would be a week or two more
before the new National Assembly is convened but Sharif and
Zardari called for the session to be called immediately.

While the parties agreed on a coalition, questions have
arisen in Bhutto's party over its candidate for prime minister.

Zardari's deputy chairman and Bhutto's close aide, Makhdoom
Amin Fahim, has been regarded as the likely choice for the job
but a delay in nominating him has led to doubts.

Ahmed Mukhtar, a former commerce minister in Bhutto's
cabinet, has emerged as another contender, since Zardari himself
is ineligible as he does not hold a seat in the assembly.

Speaking to private television channels, Fahim mentioned the
the possibility of quitting the party if he were not nominated,
adding he did not want party rifts.

Date created : 2008-03-09