Fri, Nov 16, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Musharraf may step down next month: official

AFP AND AP , ISLAMABAD

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said that he will step down as army chief before Dec. 1, the nation's attorney general told reporters yesterday.

The announcement came as military ruler Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3, faced growing international calls to shed his uniform.

"The president has said he will give up his uniform before Dec. 1," attorney general Malik Mohammad Qayyum told a news conference.

Musharraf and other officials had previously said he would wait for the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of his Oct. 6 reelection as president before quitting the army.

successor

Asked what would happen if the court -- stripped of hostile judges under emergency laws -- ruled against Musharraf, Qayyum said: "He will decide about it himself. He has already his appointed his successor."

Musharraf named former spy chief Ashfaq Kiyani as the heir apparent to the post of chief of army staff last month.

Qayyum said Pakistan's incoming caretaker government would be sworn in this morning after the current parliament was dissolved at one minute before midnight yesterday.

Meanwhile, detained former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto said yesterday she hoped to form a government of national unity to replace Musharraf before elections and is contacting other opposition parties to get them on board.

"I am talking to the other opposition parties to find out whether they are in a position to come together," she said in a telephone interview from the home in Lahore where she is under house arrest.

"We need to see whether we can come up with an interim government of national consensus to whom power can be handed."

Bhutto left open the question of whether she, or someone else, would lead such a government, saying it was a subject that would have to be worked out in negotiations.

But she said a consensus must be reached that would ensure an orderly transition should Musharraf agree to step down.

Bhutto made the comments shortly after a visit at the surrounded Lahore residence from Bryan Hunt, the US consul general in the eastern Pakistani city.

US concerN

Bhutto said Washington was concerned about a power vacuum in Pakistan, and wanted to know if she would still consider working with Musharraf.

"He came to find out whether I could work with General Musharraf, and I told him that it was very difficult to work with someone who instead of taking us toward democracy took us back toward military dictatorship," Bhutto said.

Bhutto said she tried to allay Washington's concern about what would happen to the nuclear-armed nation if Musharraf were forced out, saying she shared the US' misgivings and that a strategy for an orderly transition was a must.

The Americans "worry about what would happen if there was not a smooth transition, and they worry about what would happen if Musharraf left and there would be a vacuum. So that is a concern, and a valid concern," she said.

"I share that thought, too. In fact, once General Musharraf agrees to go, we need to have an exit strategy. I think an exit strategy is very important," she said.

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