Musharraf faces impeachment threat

Pakistan's ruling coalition agreed in principle to launch proceedings to impeach President Pervez Musharraf. Pakistani PM Gilani will attend opening ceremonies for the Olympics after Musharraf cancelled his departure to Beijing.


Pakistan faced fresh political turmoil on Thursday after officials said the ruling coalition had agreed to impeach President Pervez Musharraf, a vital US ally in the "war on terror."

The agreement came after three days of marathon talks between coalition leaders Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, another ex-premier.

"The coalition parties have agreed in principle to launch an impeachment motion against President Musharraf," a senior coalition official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The government had summoned the national assembly, or lower house of parliament, to sit on August 11 but it was not immediately known when any moves to start impeachment proceedings would begin, the official added.

Spokesmen for the two main parties in the coalition said a formal announcement was due to be made later Thursday.

Musharraf cancelled his departure to Beijing -- where he was to attend to the opening of the Olympic Games on Friday -- shortly after news of the impeachment plan emerged.

His place at the opening ceremony will be taken by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the foreign ministry said.

Musharraf's allies have said he will fight any attempt to topple him. As president he is able to dissolve parliament and call new elections, or even declare a state of emergency.

The former commando seized power in a military coup in October 1999 and ruled nuclear-armed Pakistan for eight years with the backing of the United States, which has counted him as a key ally since the September 11 attacks.

But his popularity slumped after he ousted the country's chief justice and imposed emergency rule in November 2007 to prevent any challenges to his re-election as president.

Musharraf stepped down as army chief that month, and the parties of Bhutto and Sharif subsequently trounced his allies in general elections in February.

Coalition sources said the agreement to impeach came when Sharif assured Zardari that he could count on the support of some former members of the PML-N who are currently members of a pro-Musharraf party.

"There was a major breakthrough in the talks late last night. We have agreed to impeach the president," a senior member of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party said.

An official from Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, now led by her widower Zardari, confirmed the decision.

The parties have also agreed to restore judges sacked by Musharraf under emergency rule but were still working out the details, party sources said.

They said that a charge sheet on Musharraf's position and performance as president would be drawn up and submitted to parliament to be signed by at least half of all MPs in the coming days.

The speaker of the national assembly, or lower house of parliament, would then notify Musharraf and ask him to defend his position within seven to 15 days, they said.

The coalition had been split by the twin issues of what to do about Musharraf and how to carry out their pledge to reinstate the judges.

The rift had effectively paralysed the government, which is under huge US pressure over its efforts to negotiate with Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. It is also facing public anger over rising food and fuel prices.

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