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Pakistan heads for coalition

PPP emerges as largest party in polls:

Pakistan: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's opponents said yesterday they would try to form a coalition, after winning an election that cast doubt over how long the U.S.-allied Pakistani president can stay in power.

A wave of sympathy helped the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto emerge as the largest party in the 342-seat National Assembly, although it failed to win a majority.

A hostile Parliament could seek to oust Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in 1999.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, said the PPP had the right to form a coalition government, adding there would be no place in it for the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (PML).

"As the largest political force of the country, we demand that we be allowed to make the Government," he told a news conference in Islamabad.

"For now, the decision of the party is that we are not interested in any of those people

who are part and parcel of the last government," Zardari said, appearing to leave open the option of changing his mind later. Zardari, who took over the leadership of the PPP after Bhutto's death, said he would try to persuade Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew, to join a coalition.

"We will form a Government of National Consensus which will take along every democratic force," Asif Ali Zardari told a news conference in Islamabad a day after the parliamentary elections. If finalized, an alliance of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the PML-N would have more than half the seats in a new parliament.

Both opposition parties fared strongly in the elections that saw the defeat of President Pervez Musharraf's allies.

If a new governing coalition could muster a two-thirds majority in parliament, it could call for Musharraf to be impeached.

Speaking at a news conference in Lahore, Sharif urged Musharraf to accept he was no longer wanted.

"He would say, when people would want, I will go. Today the people have said what they want," Sharif said after his party ran a close second in Monday's polls.

Sharif said he planned to meet Zardari on Thursday.

"I invite all to sit together and free Pakistan of dictatorship," said Sharif, who returned from exile in November, a month later than Bhutto.

Bhutto's assassination heightened concern about the stability of the nuclear-armed state. Musharraf, who emerged as a crucial U.S. ally in a "war on terror" most Pakistanis think is Washington's, not theirs, has seen his popularity plummet in the last year as he reeled from one political crisis to another.

Reuters

 

 

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