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Pakistan's Sharif, Zardari hold last-ditch talks

Leaders of Pakistan's ruling coalition held talks in Dubai on Wednesday with their month-old alliance on the line amid a deadlock over the reinstatement of judges.

world Updated: Apr 30, 2008 22:14 IST

Leaders of Pakistan's ruling coalition held talks in Dubai on Wednesday with their month-old alliance on the line amid a deadlock over the reinstatement of judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf.

Former premier Nawaz Sharif flew to the Gulf emirate on Tuesday for talks with Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) leader Asif Ali Zardari, with a 30-day deadline on revolving the dispute set to expire on Wednesday.

The two leaders were still locked in talks for more than five hours after they started a second meeting at around 3:30 pm (1130 GMT) in a Dubai hotel, following a shorter meeting earlier the same day.

"We are still talking," Sharif told reporters between the two sessions.

The one-time rivals agreed in March to push through a parliamentary resolution to restore dozens of judges forced out by key US ally Musharraf last November when he declared a state of emergency.

But their dispute resurfaced when the PPP insisted the reinstatement of the judges, including former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, be done via a constitutional package that includes plans for judicial reforms.

"We are committed to restoration of the judges within 30 days," Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, told a private Pakistani television channel as he headed to the talks.

He said the reforms to the constitution and the judges getting their jobs back "have to be delinked", adding however that he would be "happy to discuss the package."

Sharif told reporters before leaving for Dubai that he wanted the "coalition to stay together" but warned of "disastrous consequences for democracy and Pakistan" if the judges were not restored.

Zardari -- the widower of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto -- is staying with his two children in Dubai.

Party sources said the two sides had agreed on the text of the resolution, but the PPP was still pressing for constitutional changes.

"In addition to the agreement on the resolution, we have to work out modalities for implementing that resolution in line with the constitutional requirements," PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP.

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999, took the unprecedented decision to depose the judges ahead of a decision by the Supreme Court on whether to overturn his re-election as president.

If the chief justice is restored, he could take up fresh challenges to Musharraf.

Political sources say Zardari is under heavy pressure from the United States and Britain, which regard Musharraf as a key ally in the "war on terror", not to destabilise the president's position.

The Pakistani legal community and a number of political parties that boycotted general elections on February 18 are threatening to launch a protest movement if the judges are not restored.

The PPP won a majority of seats in parliament but not enough to form a government on its own. The polls however dealt a crippling blow to Musharraf's supporters.

Sharif, whose PML-N secured the second largest number of seats in the polls, said his party had won a mandate from the people for its stand for the restoration of judges.

Sharif's trip to Dubai came after the apparent failure of talks between his younger brother Shahbaz, who is the PML-N's president, and Zardari in Dubai on Monday and Tuesday.

"The nation has counted each moment until now and today the day has arrived," senior party leader Javed Hashmi, who led the PML-N while the Sharifs were in exile, told lawyers in the central Pakistani city of Multan.