Pakistan's coalition steps up pressure on Musharraf to quit

(dpa) - A senior leader of Pakistan's ruling party on Sunday asked President Pervez Musharraf to "pack his bag and go" immediately as the governing coalition readied itself to start impeachment proceedings next week if the embattled leader refused to step down.

"Musharraf has lost the mandate of the people and he should tender his resignation," Senator Raza Rabbani, of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) said after attending a meeting that prepared the final draft of the charge sheet against the former army chief.

Though there was no official word on the charges, PPP's chief Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif last week accused the president of constitutional violations and gross misconduct.

Rabbani said Musharraf had no justification - political, moral or legal - for clinging to power as all four provincial assemblies, which along with the parliament constituted his electoral college, passed resolutions against him over the week.

"He no longer represents the federation of Pakistan," he added. Some of Musharraf's close friends have been in negotiations with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the leading party in the ruling coalition, to secure legal immunity for his actions since the 1999 coup in return for his voluntarily stepping down.

Last week, senior US, British and Saudi officials also made hectic diplomatic efforts to broker a deal, which according to PPP sources should be struck before Tuesday when the coalition was planning to table an impeachment resolution in the lower house of the parliament.

"The president will have to take a decision by today or tomorrow. If he resigns we will not impeach him. But once the impeachment is put in process, he may face a different situation," Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned on Saturday.

The president will have to take a decision by today or tomorrow. If he resigns we will not impeach him. But once the impeachment is put in process, he may face a different situation," Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned on Saturday.

Rabbani refuted the reports that the PPP was in contact with the beleaguered leader, saying the coalition leaders and the country's parliament will have the final word on whether to give Musharraf "safe exit."

He said the coalition government would not take any pressure from the foreign countries on this issue. "It's Pakistan's internal matter. It's a constitutional and parliamentary matter that will be resolved in accordance with the opinion of the Pakistani public."

The popularity of Musharraf, a key US ally in the international fight against terrorism, began to plummet in March 2007 when he axed the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, an independent-minded judge, who had ruled against his government on several sensitive issues.

Faced with countrywide protests, Musharraf reinstated Chaudhry in July 2007 - only to re-sack him on November 3 under an emergency order. The move came when the Supreme Court was set to rule on Musharraf's controversial re-election for a second presidential term.

The measure attracted wide criticism from the Pakistani public as well as international rights organizations, and it lead to a thrashing defeat of his political allies in February 18 elections.

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