Zardari to be sworn in as Pakistan's president Tuesday

Pakistan's president-elect Asif Ali Zardari is to be sworn in early next week amid hopes that his rise could bring stability to the crisis-ridden nation, a senior official said Sunday, reported dpa.

"The oath-taking ceremony will take place on Tuesday," Information Minister Sherry Rehman told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Zardari secured 481 of the 702 electoral votes in Saturday's presidential elections, placing him far ahead of his rivals - former Supreme Court chief justice Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui and veteran politician Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who got 153 and 44 votes, respectively.

Zardari, the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto and her successor as chief of the Pakistan People's Party, called his overnight win "a victory for democracy."

That victory now confronts him with a host of challenges.

Diplomatically, Pakistan's relations with the United States are strained because of cross-border militant attacks on international forces in Afghanistan, and the subsequent US strikes inside Pakistani territory on al-Qaeda and Taliban targets.

The US has officially welcomed Zardari's election with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying that "now with the new president, I think we have got a good way forward."

The US has expressed willingness to help Pakistan upgrade its security apparatus to fight Islamic militants in the volatile north-western tribal regions along the Afghan frontier.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso greeted Zardari's election by saying, "I trust that under your presidency the government will implement appropriate policies to meet the important economic and security challenges the country is currently facing."

Pakistan is facing massive inflation, currency devaluation and its foreign reserves have been falling at a rate of around 800 million dollars a month since last October.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Pakistan requires substantial external financing to save its economy and depleting foreign-currency reserves, which according to the official figures now hover just over 9 billion dollars.

During his race to the presidency, Zardari lost his major ally, former premier Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) pulled out of the coalition last month over differences regarding the reinstatement of judges deposed by ousted president Pervez Musharraf. Sharif also demanded that presidential powers be curtailed, including the power to dissolve parliament, but Zardari refused to limit his eventual presidency.

Though the PML-N opted to sit on the opposition benches, it says it will not destabilize the PPP-led government.

"Asif Ali Zardar's election is the victory for democracy," Sharif conceded in a statement. But party officials said they expected the new president to honour his pledges to reinstate the judges and annul amendments made in the constitution by Musharraf.

"It is his test now whether he abides by his commitment. And if he does not, he will further lose his credibility," said Siddiqul Farooq, a PML-N spokesman.

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