Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has berated his ruling coalition for leaving him isolated in a growing crisis that threatens to destabilize a country on the front line of a global anti-terrorism campaign.
Musharraf, who is also army chief, is due to address the nation, perhaps on Thursday, government officials said, when he is expected to set out his position in a crisis he precipitated by suspending Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9.
The address would come hard on the heels of the detention of hundreds of opposition activists and a clamp-down on the broadcast media.
Opposition parties pushing for the restoration of democracy were due to hold protests on Thursday while the government was also expected to face criticism in parliament, which began a new session on Wednesday.
The News newspaper said Musharraf told ruling party members of parliament they were failing to come to his support.
"I bluntly say you always leave me alone in times of trial and tribulation," the paper, citing unidentified participants at the Wednesday meeting, quoted Musharraf as saying.
"I see the party nowhere. You people are not mobilized," he was quoted as telling ruling Pakistan Muslim League members.
The suspension of Chaudhry over unspecified misconduct outraged lawyers and opposition and has blown up into the biggest challenge to Musharraf's authority since he took power in 1999.
But while the crisis is seen to have weakened Musharraf's political position in the run-up to elections, the crucial support of the army and the United States has been unwavering.
The United States would view with alarm instability in a nuclear-armed country where Al- Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding out. Pakistan's help is also seen as crucial to success fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
The News said Musharraf expressed his frustration in his long talk, saying: "I feel disturbed for the first time."
He also warned that Pakistan would find it harder to halt the spread of hardline Islamist influence, dubbed "Talibanisation", without his leadership, the News said.
A senior government official said the News report was exaggerated but the president had urged action.
"You should go to your constituencies and effectively defend and project government policies," the official cited Musharraf as saying. "You should take a proactive approach in the face of growing opposition propaganda."
WARNING ON EMERGENCY
The crisis has led to speculation Musharraf might declare a state of emergency but he has repeatedly ruled that out and said elections due at the end of the year would be on time.
The International Crisis Group think tank said the United States should put pressure on Pakistan to ensure emergency rule is not imposed and to effect a peaceful transition to democracy.
"Any attempt to impose emergency rule and suspend fundamental rights would be pouring petrol on the fire," said the group's South Asia director, Samina Ahmed.
Musharraf again said on Wednesday elections would go ahead as scheduled and be fair, the state news agency said.
Musharraf wants to get re-elected by sitting national and provincial assemblies, perhaps in September, before they are dissolved for general elections.
But he is believed to be reluctant to give up his post of army chief as he is constitutionally required to do this year
Analysts believe Musharraf's main motive for seeking to replace Chaudhry stemmed from doubts the Supreme Court judge would be supportive in the event of constitutional challenges to the president's re-election plans.