Pakistan's Musharraf says his army goodbyes

( AFP ) - Pervez Musharraf was saluted by his troops Tuesday on his last full day as Pakistan's army chief as he bows to international pressure to become a civilian president.

Faced with swelling anger over his three-week-old state of emergency, the embattled US ally received guards of honour as he launched a two-day ceremonial tour of the army, navy and air force.

He is to resign as chief of army staff on Wednesday. The next day he will take the oath for a second five-year term as president -- this time without the uniform that he has described as being like his skin.

A military band played martial tunes and the national anthem as Musharraf visited the joint staff headquarters in Rawalpindi. Soldiers marched past and saluted Musharraf, who wore ceremonial dress, medals and a green sash.

Musharraf later received colourful send-offs at the headquarters of the air force and navy in Islamabad and exchanged souvenirs with senior commanders.

"It's part of army tradition that the outgoing chief visits the troops and thanks them for their services before relinquishing his command," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Baseer Haider told AFP.

"The command changing ceremony will take place tomorrow."

On Wednesday, Musharraf will be driven to the army's general headquarters to hand over his position as head of the nuclear-armed military to his heir apparent, former spy chief General Ashfaq Kiyani.

By resigning from the military, Musharraf, who grabbed power in a coup in 1999 and then signed up to the US-led fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, is meeting a key demand of the international community.

Interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema said Musharraf's transition to civilian life would not affect Pakistan's efforts to combat militancy.

"Uniform or no uniform it would not impact our war on terror," Cheema said.

But the move is unlikely to placate opposition leaders who are threatening to boycott elections set for January 8, amid one of the most serious political crises since Pakistan's formation 60 years ago.

Last week, a purged Supreme Court rubber-stamped Musharraf's victory in an October presidential election.

He will remain supreme commander of the armed forces with the power to sack civilian governments, but faces fierce political opposition that could leave him saddled with a hostile parliament.

His arch-foe Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister whom he ousted eight years ago, returned from exile on Sunday vowing to end "dictatorship" in Pakistan.

Sharif said Tuesday he had been in telephone contact with rival opposition leader Benazir Bhutto three or four times in the last few days as they consider a joint strategy for the elections.

A Bhutto party aide earlier said the two had not spoken.

"I shall try to convince Benazir Bhutto to boycott the polls," Sharif told reporters in his home city of Lahore, in eastern Pakistan, adding that he had already asked her to take a "firm stance" against the vote.

He said Musharraf wanted to rig the vote to secure a sufficient majority in parliament that would indemnify him over his imposition of emergency rule and his sacking of many of the nation's top judges.

Musharraf cited growing militancy and an unruly judiciary as reasons for declaring the emergency, although critics say his real motive was to purge the Supreme Court of hostile judges who could have overruled his election.

On Tuesday, officials and residents said Pakistani troops had re-captured a strategic mountain top from pro-Taliban militants in the northwest Swat valley and shut down their pirate radio station.

The country has also suffered a record number of suicide attacks in 2007.

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