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Pakistan's Musharraf says army still backs him

by Staff Writers
Karachi (AFP) July 5, 2008
President Pervez Musharraf insisted on Friday that Pakistan's powerful army still supports him, but he said he would step down if he thought it would solve all of the country's problems.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, blasted "hypocrites" for saying that the nuclear-armed Islamic republic's 500,000-strong military had turned against him since he stepped down as army chief last November.

"The army will never leave me alone," Musharraf told a meeting of business leaders in the southern port city of Karachi. "Those who said the armed forces are not with me are the worst hypocrites and rumourmongers."

The US-backed leader, a key ally in Washington's "war on terror", has been on the defensive since parties led by slain former premier Benazir Bhutto and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif won elections in February.

Pakistani newspapers have been filled with reports in recent weeks about the relationship between Musharraf and his successor as chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Kayani.

Musharraf however rejected calls by Sharif and other opposition figures for him to quit as president. Musharraf's fate has caused a split within the ruling coalition led by the parties of Bhutto and Sharif.

"I am not leaving Pakistan, I am not leaving the country to get a mansion in America or Turkey and why should I do this? I have committed no crime or sin," Musharraf said.

"But, I will take not a single day to resign when I see it will benefit the country and solve all of its problems," added Musharraf, who was speaking after keeping a low public profile for several weeks.

Musharraf also urged the newly elected government to focus on political reconciliation and economic problems and to combat Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants responsible for a wave of suicide attacks in the country.

"If the flood of Talibanisation is not stopped the whole of Pakistan will see Red Mosques everywhere. We have to stop it," he said, referring to an Islamabad mosque besieged and stormed by troops a year ago with the loss of more than 100 lives.

Officials say Musharraf may try to reach out to the ruling coalition, especially members of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, in a bid to shore up his position.

Visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher this week urged Pakistan's government to tackle security and the crumbling economy, saying that Musharraf's fate was "not the issue right now".

Pakistan has been hit by spiralling food prices and frequent electricity shortages.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is from Bhutto's party, is set to meet with US President George W. Bush on July 28 for talks on stepping up efforts against Islamic militants along the Afghan border.

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US leaders acknowledge 'tough' going in Afghanistan
Washington (AFP) July 2, 2008
US President George W. Bush on Wednesday acknowledged "a tough month" for NATO and US-led forces in Afghanistan but insisted the war-fighting strategy there is working, despite increasing violence.

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