Wed, Nov 28, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Musharraf to quit army today

BOWING TO PRESSURE The Pakistani president planned to step down ahead of his swearing-in as the country's civilian president tomorrow

AFP , RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf salutes as he listens to a military band play the national anthem during a farewell ceremony at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

The Pakistani military bid President Pervez Musharraf a pomp-filled farewell yesterday, one day before he bows to global pressure and quits as army chief to become Pakistan's civilian leader.

Facing mounting anger at home and abroad over his three-week-old state of emergency, the beleaguered US ally embarked on a two-day tour of the military establishment to say his goodbyes.

He is to resign as chief of army staff today.

Tomorrow he will take the oath for a second five-year term as president -- but this time without the uniform that he has described as being like his skin.

His first stop yesterday was at the Joint Staffs headquarters, combining the top commands of the army, navy and air forces, where Musharraf was presented with a guard of honor.

A band played martial tunes and the national anthem before troops marched past Musharraf, who wore ceremonial dress decorated with medals and a green sash.

He also had a 15-minute meeting with General Tariq Majid, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, at which they exchanged souvenirs.

Today he will be driven to the army's general headquarters to hand over his position as head of the nuclear-armed military to his heir apparent, former spy chief General Ashfaq Kiyani.

By resigning from the military, Musharraf, who grabbed power in a coup in 1999 and then signed up to the US-led fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, is meeting a key demand of the global community.

The move, however, is not likely to placate opposition leaders at home who are threatening to boycott elections set for Jan. 8 in the midst of one of the most serious political crises since the country's formation 60 years ago.

Last week a purged Supreme Court rubber-stamped Musharraf's victory in a presidential election held last month, swatting away legal challenges arguing that as a serving military officer he was ineligible to stand.

Even as a civilian president, Musharraf will remain supreme commander of the armed forces, with the power to sack civilian governments, but faces fierce political opposition that could leave him saddled with a hostile parliament that smells blood.

His arch-foe Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister whom he ousted eight years ago, returned from exile on Sunday vowing to end "dictatorship" and saying he would never serve in government under him.

Musharraf was appointed chief of Pakistan's 500,000-strong army by Sharif himself in 1998.

Another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, returned home last month and is expected to hold talks with Sharif on a joint strategy for general elections.

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