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Monday, June 16, 2008
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Sharif's party begins to rally lawmakers for Musharraf's impeachment

With PML(N) Chief Nawaz Sharif raising the pitch for President Pervez Mushrarraf's trial, his party MPs yesterday said they have launched a signature campaign calling for the former general's impeachment.

Hanif Abbasi, a PML-N lawmaker, told reporters outside parliament that 48 lawmakers of his party had so far signed the motion.

A final decision in the matter would be taken at the next joint meeting of the parliamentary parties of the PML-N and its ally Pakistan People's Party, he said.

"The leadership of the PML-N and PPP have said that Musharraf should be impeached. Till today, 48 signatures have been obtained (for the impeachment motion)," Abbasi said.

He pointed out that PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari had himself said that the people wanted Musharraf's ouster from the Presidency.

"The people's view is that the individual against whom they had given a verdict in the February 18 general election is still sitting in the Presidency and Army House. It is now the parliament's job to remove him," Abbasi said.

PML-N chief Sharif has been insisting on Musharraf's removal since the President's supporters were routed in the general election. Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister in a military coup led by Musharraf in 1999, has said the former military strongman should also be held accountable for his actions over the past eight-and-half years.

The PPP has so far held back from acting on the PML-N's demand for the impeachment of Musharraf, saying the ruling coalition does not have the two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament that is required for such a move.

While the PPP-led coalition has a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament, the opposition PML-Q has a slender majority in the Senate or upper house.

Meanwhile Pakistan's main ruling party said Saturday it will reinstate judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf only after it has overcome legal obstacles following a massive rally calling for their restoration.

Reinstating the judges could hasten the political demise of Musharraf, a stalwart US ally who seized power in a 1999 coup. Failure to do so could sink the new coalition government, triggering turmoil in a country already threatened by economic woes and Islamic militants.

"We will restore the judges, but according to the law," said Rehman Malik, a leading figure in the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. "Nothing will be done which could create another constitutional crisis."

Lawyers called the protest because the 11-week-old ruling coalition has failed to keep a promise to quickly reinstate the justices, who were ousted by Musharraf when he imposed emergency rule last year.

Tens of thousands took part in a raucous, sweat-soaked rally late Friday on a parade ground a few hundred yards from Parliament. The gathering, which lasted until dawn, was one of the largest ever in Islamabad with a crowd estimated about 20,000.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the second-largest coalition party, addressed the protesters from a stage atop shipping containers. He lauded the judges and vowed that Musharraf would be put on trial and "held accountable."

"Listen Pervez Musharraf! The nation has given its verdict against you. Listen Musharraf to what the nation is saying and what the nation is demanding!" Sharif said, drawing a response of "Hang Musharraf!" from the crowd.

The protest was the culmination of a grand procession that began from the corners of Pakistan early this week. Police estimated that 40,000 people joined the procession at its height and many more watched from the roadsides.

Sharif was ousted in Musharraf's 1999 coup and appears to view the judges as potential allies as he seeks political revenge against his nemesis. He has pulled members of his party from the Cabinet over the delay, raising the prospect that the government could collapse over the issue.

Bhutto's party, now led by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, argues that it must first change the law and the constitution to ensure that Musharraf and his allies cannot block the plan with court challenges.

It has floated a raft of constitutional changes that would significantly reduce Musharraf's powers, including the right to dissolve Parliament.

However, critics are accusing it of shielding the unpopular president at the behest of Washington.

Malik pointed to a little-noted clause inserted in a budget bill put before Parliament on Thursday to underline his party's commitment to the judges.

The clause proposes raising the maximum number of judges in the Supreme Court from 16 to 29. Zardari has sought the change so that the judges installed by Musharraf since the purge can hold onto their jobs a prospect that could dissuade them from siding with any legal challenge from Musharraf.

"I think people are understanding that we are moving in the correct direction," Malik said. "We know the aspirations of the nation, we will fulfil them.

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