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Pakistani PM Gilani says terrorism main priority PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 March 2008

REUTERS, ISLAMABAD - Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani laid out plans on Saturday for his government's first 100 days, saying the fight against terrorism, poverty and unemployment would be on top of his agenda.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza GilaniGilani, a top official from assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's party, secured the unanimous approval of the National Assembly earlier on Saturday without a vote of confidence after the opposition said it supported him.

A new prime minister is required by the constitution to secure the backing of the lower house of parliament.

Shortly after the National Assembly speaker announced that Gilani had secured unanimous approval, he began to lay out his coalition government's plans.

"Terrorism and extremism are our greatest problems. They have put the country in danger. Therefore, it is our first priority to bring peace to the country and fight terrorism," Gilani said.

The government would be willing to talk to militants who laid down their arms, he said.

Bhutto's party won the most seats in a Feb. 18 parliamentary election and is forming a coalition with the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and two smaller parties.

The election was a setback for President Pervez Musharraf, with the main party that backs him coming a poor third.
Musharraf has been a steadfast U.S. ally since the Sept. 11 attacks but his support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism has been deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis.

Two senior U.S. officials visited Pakistan this week and were told the new government was determined to fight terrorism but it would adopt a new approach to be determined by parliament, as opposed to Musharraf setting policy single-handed.

Militants responsible for a wave of bombings and attacks on the security forces in recent months are based in remote ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border, which have been ruled under separate, colonial-era, laws from the rest of the country.

Gilani said the tribal areas needed comprehensive economic, social and political reforms and the region's separate laws would be scrapped, as human rights groups have long demanded.

ECONOMIC PROBLEMS

Last month's election was a major step in restoring civilian rule in nuclear-armed Pakistan, which has been ruled by the military for more than half its history since 1947.

Gilani praised the new army chief for his steps to remove the military from civil affairs.

He did not mention Musharraf but said his government would "play a role" in reinstating judges Musharraf dismissed in November.

The coalition partners have pledged to reinstate the judges Musharraf sacked out of fear they would rule as unconstitutional his re-election in October by the old assembly. If reinstated, they are expected to take up legal challenges to the president.

Gilani's government has inherited a range of economic problems including widening trade and fiscal deficits, rising prices and power shortages.

He told parliament poverty was a huge problem and his government would seek to create jobs in the public and private sectors with a target of work for at least one member of every family in half of the country's districts.

He promised to raise the price farmers are paid for wheat to increase supplies, and to generate another 2,200 MW electricity within a year.

He also promised belt-tightening and said his government opposed "VIP culture". The budget at the prime minister's official residence would be slashed and his ministers would have to fly economy class.

On foreign policy, Gilani hailed Pakistan's close ties with China and said he wanted stable relations with the United States and Europe and a peaceful Afghanistan.

He said his government would "take forward" negotiations with old rival India on the Himalayan region of Kashmir, the main source of dispute between the neighbours.

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