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Pakistan's Sharif to join Bhutto party in coalition

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSISL7451920080309?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews Pakistan s Sharif to join Bhutto party in coalition Sun Mar 9, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 9, 2008
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      http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSISL7451920080309?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews

      Pakistan's Sharif to join Bhutto party in coalition
      Sun Mar 9, 2008 2:14pm EDT
      By Kamran Haider

      BHURBAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - Former Pakistani prime
      minister Nawaz Sharif agreed on Sunday to join the
      late Benazir Bhutto's party in a coalition, raising
      the prospect of a government hostile to U.S. ally
      President Pervez Musharraf.

      In an ominous sign for Musharraf, Sharif and Asif Ali
      Zardari, Bhutto's widower and the new leader of the
      Pakistan People's Party (PPP), agreed to restore
      judges who Musharraf dismissed when he imposed
      emergency rule in early November.

      Bhutto's PPP won the most seats in a February 18
      general election but not enough to rule alone.
      Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML (N),
      party came second and while it had promised to support
      the PPP, Sharif had not previously confirmed his party
      would join the PPP in government.

      "The coalition partners ... undertake to form a
      coalition together for a democratic Pakistan," Sharif
      and Zardari, who took over as PPP leader after Bhutto
      was assassinated on December 27, said in their
      agreement.

      Sharif read out the agreement at a news conference
      with Zardari in the hill town of Bhurban, near
      Islamabad.

      The dismissed judges, including the Supreme Court
      chief justice, were seen as hostile to Musharraf's
      October re-election by legislators for a new five-year
      term as president while he was still army chief. The
      judges are likely to take up legal challenges to
      Musharraf if they are restored.

      The agreement between the PPP and PML (N) would appear
      to dash any hope that Musharraf might have had that
      the party that backs him, which came a poor third in
      the election, might be part of a coalition.

      The Awami Nationalist Party, an ethnic Pashtun
      nationalist party which has emerged as a major group
      in the North West Frontier Province by trouncing
      hard-line Islamic groups, will also be part of the
      PPP-led coalition.

      The Jamaiat-e-ulema-e-Islam, a major Islamic party,
      has also said it had agreed "in principle" to join the
      coalition.

      Zardari and Sharif agreed the reappointment of the
      dismissed judges would occur through a parliamentary
      resolution within 30 days of the formation of the
      government.

      Musharraf quit as army chief in November, before being
      sworn in as civilian president.

      Western allies and Pakistan's neighbors, concerned
      about instability in a nuclear-armed state already
      reeling from suicide bombings by al Qaeda-inspired
      militants, fear more political upheaval in the country
      in case of confrontation between the president and new
      government.

      TEAR GAS

      Lawyers launched a week of protests on Sunday to press
      for the restoration of the judges. Police fired tear
      gas at protesters near the home of former chief
      justice Iftikhar Chaudhry where he has been detained
      since November.

      It was a year ago on Sunday that Musharraf first
      suspended Chaudhry, touching off protests by lawyers
      and the opposition.

      Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup, has been
      calling for the unpopular president to step down, and
      on Sunday said Musharraf should accept the people's
      verdict "against dictatorship".

      Zardari was more conciliatory, saying he did not
      believe in "personal agendas".

      Musharraf has advised a new government to focus on
      fighting terrorism and sustaining economic growth
      rather than politics.

      Musharraf said last week it would be a week or two
      more before the new National Assembly is convened but
      Sharif and Zardari called for the session to be called
      immediately.

      While the parties agreed on a coalition, questions
      have arisen in Bhutto's party over its candidate for
      prime minister.

      Zardari's deputy chairman and Bhutto's close aide,
      Makhdoom Amin Fahim, has been regarded as the likely
      choice for the job but a delay in nominating him has
      led to doubts.

      Ahmed Mukhtar, a former commerce minister in Bhutto's
      cabinet, has emerged as another contender, since
      Zardari himself is ineligible as he does not hold a
      seat in the assembly.

      Speaking to private television channels, Fahim
      mentioned the possibility of quitting the party if he
      were not nominated, adding he did not want party
      rifts.

      (Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Writing by
      Robert Birsel; Editing by Matthew Jones)

      (For a Reuters blog about Pakistan please see:

      http://blogs.reuters.com/pakistan )
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