Thu, Dec 02, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan enacts law to keep Musharraf as chief of the army

AFP , ISLAMABAD

Pakistan on Tuesday enacted a controversial law allowing President Pervez Musharraf to continue as chief of the army despite his earlier promise to give up the military post, officials said.

The bill, which had been adopted by parliament on Nov. 1, comes less than 12 months after Musharraf said he would relinquish his uniform by the end of this year and become a civilian leader.

The bill was signed by acting president Muhammad Mian Soomro, who is also senate chairman, in the absence of Musharraf, who is visiting Latin America as part of a six-nation tour.

"President Musharraf will now keep both the offices," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said by telephone from London, where Musharraf is due to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair early next week.

The new law puts no time limit on how long Musharraf, a key ally in the US war on terror, can hold both positions although his term as president is meant to end in 2007.

Speaking on the sidelines of a breakfast meeting in Sao Paulo with Brazilian and Pakistani business executives, Musharraf welcomed the law and said it represented: "Continuity and sustainability."

Tuesday was the deadline for presidential approval of the bill, falling just within the 30-day mark since the senate gave its backing.

The bill was endorsed earlier this month by the government-dominated senate amid protests by the opposition, which has launched a nationwide campaign to force Musharraf to quit as chief of Pakistan's powerful army.

In December last year General Musharraf pledged on national television he would shed his military title. But he said nearly a fortnight ago that he had "doubts" he would be able to do so.

Musharraf seized power after toppling former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless army coup in October 1999.

He appointed himself president in June 2001 and won a heavily criticized referendum in April 2002 followed by a parliamentary vote of confidence last December.

Musharraf had pledged to step down as army chief as part of a deal with a six-party Islamic alliance, in return for their parliamentary support for constitutional amendments that validated his presidency and gave him sweeping powers, including the authority to dismiss parliament.

Musharraf has since said he needed to keep the military post in order to continue fighting terrorism and seeking a settlement with India of the long-running Kashmir dispute.

The Islamic alliance, or Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), and secular opposition parties including the Pakistan People's Party of former premier Benazir Bhutto, have joined forces to launch a nationwide agitation campaign against Musharraf.

"Musharraf is legally bound to relinquish the office of army chief by the end of December," the alliance's deputy secretary general Hafiz Hussain Ahmed said.

The MMA at a rally in Karachi on Sunday gave Musharraf a Dec. 19 deadline to become a civilian president or face a nationwide protest movement.

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