Pakistan's Musharraf defies resignation calls

4/07/2008 - 20:57

By Aftab Borka

KARACHI (Reuters) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharrafhit back at calls for his resignation on Friday, saying he wasneeded to help political parties avoid an economic meltdown andtackle a militant threat gripping the country.

"We cannot address the problems of terrorism and extremismand the economic crisis if there is no political stability,"Musharraf told businessmen in Karachi in his first publicaddress since his allies lost an election last February.

The key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism lostparliamentary support, but the Bush administration has voicedsupport for Musharraf, who came to power as a general in a coupin 1999.

During a visit to Pakistan earlier this week, U.S.Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher urged parties tofocus on these challenges rather than be drawn into a fight todrive Musharraf from office.

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated two time primeminister Benazir Bhutto, led the Pakistan People's party (PPP)to victory in the polls.

The PPP formed a coalition with three other partiesincluding the runner up led by Nawaz Sharif, the prime ministerMusharraf overthrew.

Sharif pulled his party out of the government in May, afterZardari reneged on a commitment to swiftly reinstate SupremeCourt judges who Musharraf had dismissed.

The judges could revive a case challenging the legitimacyof Musharraf's re-election by the previous parliament lastOctober.

Sharif has called for Musharraf to be impeached forinvoking emergency rule and suspending the constitution for sixweeks last November or even put on trial for his role in theKargil border conflict with India in 1999.

Zardari has said the presidency would be occupied by a PPPnominee soon.

Musharraf said the politicians should bury the past andwork together with him for Pakistan's future, adding that hewould be happy for the coalition to complete its five-yearterm.

"Reconciliation is the name of the game," he said. "I wouldhave resigned yesterday, if that could have provided solutionsto the problems of Pakistan."

Aside from U.S. support, Musharraf also maintained he hadthe support of the army. "It is not the army that will ditchme... that will be my last day ... that will never happen."

There has been intense speculation that Musharraf couldquit in weeks or months.

The political uncertainty has exacerbated a loss ofconfidence among investors worried that the government will beunable to focus on the economic problems, including inflationrunning over 20 percent.

The rupee hit a new low on Thursday against the dollar,while authorities moved last week to halt a steep fall in theshare market by limiting daily movements to one percent down or10 percent up, and placing a ban on short selling.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider and AugustineAnthony; writing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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