Thu, Nov 29, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Musharraf steps down as Pakistan's military commander

CIVILIAN The ceremony was held on a field hockey ground, as hundreds of people watched an unsmiling Musharraf review the military ranks

AP , RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf stepped down from his powerful post as Pakistan's military commander yesterday, a day before he was to be sworn in as a civilian president as part of his long-delayed pledge not to hold both jobs.

During a change of command in the garrison town of Rawalpindi near the capital, Islamabad, an emotional Musharraf relinquished his post by handing over his ceremonial baton to his successor, General Ashfaq Kayani.

"[You] are the saviors of Pakistan," Musharraf said in a final speech to the troops, sniffing repeatedly and appearing to blink back tears.

Musharraf's retirement from the military has been a key opposition demand, and may help defuse a possible boycott of parliamentary elections in January by parties opposed to his rule. Since seizing power in a 1999 coup, Musharraf has served as president while retaining his post as head of the armed forces.

His ending of his more than 40 years in the army casts him into uncertain waters, with rivals snapping at his heels and the militants he has sworn to fight -- following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US -- contesting ever more of his country's territory along the Afghan border.

Musharraf had promised to give up his army role at the end of 2004. But he reneged on that pledge, saying the country still needed strong leadership in the face of Islamic extremism.

He has given it up now, in line with the constitution, only after securing a fresh term as president.

He was re-elected by parliament in October, but the Supreme Court held up his confirmation following complaints that a military man could not constitutionally serve as an elected head of state.

Musharraf reacted by proclaiming a state of emergency on Nov. 3, firing the chief justice and other independent judges and replacing them with his appointees. The reconstituted top court then approved his election.

Officials have indicated that the emergency could be lifted soon after Musharraf takes the presidential oath, but have not set a firm date.

The hour-long ceremony was held on a field hockey ground next to the military complex headquarters.

Hundreds of senior officers, politicians and other civilians watched from the stands as an unsmiling Musharraf, wearing a phalanx of medals and a green sash across his uniform, reviewed the ranks to the strains of Auld Lang Syne.

"I'm proud of this army and I was lucky to have commanded the world's best army," Musharraf said. "I will no longer command ... but my heart and my mind will always be with you."

Kayani is widely expected to maintain the army's pro-Western policies.

Musharraf insists that his continued rule as president is vital if Pakistan is to remain stable as it returns to democracy.

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