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'Pressure mounts but Musharraf won't quit'

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's spokesman Rashid Qureshi vehemently rejects the media specualtion he is about to step down.

world Updated: Aug 13, 2008 13:58 IST

Pressure mounted on Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday to resign or face impeachment, but aides rejected media speculation he was about to step down.

Musharraf has been at the centre of a political crisis since early last year that has raised fears among the United States and its allies for the stability of the nuclear-armed Muslim country, which is also a hiding place for al Qaeda leaders.

The ruling coalition government, led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said last week it aimed to impeach the former army chief and firm US ally for years of misrule.

Speculation has been rife that Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, would quit rather than face impeachment.

Politicians across the country have been calling on him to face a vote of confidence or be impeached, and more were due to add their voices to the chorus of opposition on Wednesday.

The Daily Times newspaper cited an unidentified politician from a pro-Musharraf party as saying the president would announce a decision to quit on Independence Day on Thursday.

But Musharraf's spokesman derided the report.

"Newspapers in Pakistan, I'm afraid, dream up things then start writing about them. There's no such thing," said the spokesman, retired Major General Rashid Qureshi.

The prospect of a showdown is unnerving investors with the rupee setting a new low for the third consecutive day and stocks hovering near two-year lows.

A crucial question is how the army, which has ruled for more than half the 61 years since the country's creation, will react, but coalition leaders said on Tuesday the army and its main security agency would not intervene to back up their old boss.

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Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, a senior member of Bhutto's party, said the army chief chosen by Musharraf to take over when he gave up command last year was highly professional and supported democracy.

Coalition officials hope the president, isolated since his allies were routed in February elections, resigns but if not, they will move an impeachment motion this month.

Analysts say it could take several weeks before a vote in a joint sitting of the bicameral parliament.

The government does not have the two-thirds needed to impeach but says it is confident it will win the vote with what it calls a "tidal wave" of opposition to the president.

Pressure has been mounting. Several old Musharraf allies, including members of the former ruling party that backed him, have said they would vote against him and supported resolutions in provincial assemblies calling on him to face a vote of confidence or be impeached.

Assemblies in Punjab and North West Frontier provinces have overwhelmingly passed such resolutions and the assembly in Sindh was due to adopt a similar resolution on Wednesday.

Musharraf has anchored Pakistan's backing for the US-led campaign against Islamist militancy since 2001. The new government has vowed to maintain support even though the policy is deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis.

The United States has urged the government to focus on a deteriorating economy and spreading militancy but has not commented on the impeachment, saying it is a Pakistani issue.

Newspapers have reported US ambassador Anne Patterson has been trying to ensure Musharraf is not prosecuted if he resigns. The US embassy has not commented.

Musharraf's popularity began to evaporate last year when he clashed with the judiciary and imposed emergency rule to ensure another term.