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President Zardari backs down in attempt to defuse crisis

Latest update : 2009-03-14

President Zardari agreed to key concessions after a meeting with Prime Minister Gilani during the worst political crisis this year. Rival Nawaz Sharif (photo) is in a stand-off with the government after being banned from politics.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari late Saturday offered key concessions to main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in a bid to defuse the worst political crisis of his rule.

The decisions were taken during a meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Zardari, the presidency said in a statement released after officials said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had telephoned the rival leaders.

But Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), the second biggest party in the country, which walked out of the government over a refusal to honour a deadline to reinstate judges, said it would wait for action not words.

Opposition party activists and lawyers are gearing up to march on Islamabad by Monday to demand that Zardari act on promises to reinstate judges sacked by ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007.

The opposition has been locked in a stand-off with the authorities, which has detained hundreds of activists, banned protests across the country and blockaded marchers from leaving key cities towards the capital Islamabad.

The presidency announced that Zardari and Gilani agreed that the "issue of judiciary and restoration of judges would be resolved in accordance with the principles laid down in the charter of democracy".

That document, signed by Zardari's widow, assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and Sharif in 2006, pledged to restore democracy, avoid confrontation and abolish the role of the military in politics.

Zardari has reneged on three written promises to reinstate the judges.

The government would file an appeal to the Supreme Court against a ruling on February 25 that disqualified Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from contesting elections and holding public office, the presidency said.

"The federal government will file a review petition in the Supreme Court against the verdict of the Supreme Court disqualifying Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif from electoral politics," the statement said.

The statement was released shortly after local officials announced that Clinton had called Zardari and Sharif, as efforts mounted to find a solution to resolve the crisis.

Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesman for Sharif, said he would wait to see how the announcement on the restoration of judges would play out, but welcomed the appeal to the Supreme Court on the Sharif brothers' disqualification.

"We will see how these things happen. How judges will be restored... It is not yet clear," Iqbal told AFP.

Musharraf removed independent-minded chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and some 60 other judges in 2007, fearing that he would be declared ineligible to contest a presidential election while in military uniform.

The move triggered a countrywide protest, spearheaded by lawyers, which ultimately forced Musharraf to quit in August 2008.

Date created : 2009-03-14