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Pakistan`s Zardari says wants to save coalition PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 16 May 2008

Reuters, Islamabad - The leader of the main party in Pakistan's fractured six-week-old coalition government, Asif Ali Zardari, said on Wednesday he hoped the party that resigned from the cabinet this week would remain a partner.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who heads the second biggest party in the coalition, said on Monday his members were quitting after failing to reach agreement with the main coalition party to reinstate judges dismissed by President Pervez Musharraf.

The resignations have raised the prospect of more instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan, a major US security ally, after months of turbulence that began in March last year when Musharraf tried to dismiss the country's top judge.

A four-party coalition led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was formed after an election in February that resulted in defeat for former army chief Musharraf's allies.

In his first public comments on the split in the coalition, Zardari, Bhutto's widower who has led the PPP since her killing in December, said he wanted Sharif to remain a partner.

"I am not looking at a minus Nawaz position, I'm looking at a plus Nawaz league position, where I take him on every step," Zardari told a news conference.

"Even if we agree to disagree on some (issues) we should agree on most of them," he said.

Sharif has promised that his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), would still support the government while no longer being part of it.

But Zardari said he had a majority in parliament without Sharif's party and, in an apparent hint he could bring Musharraf's allies into government, said he wanted reconciliation with all politicians, even old enemies.

ECONOMIC WOES

The alliance between the PPP and Sharif's party raised hopes of stable civilian rule in a country ruled by generals for more than half its history since its independence in 1947.

But the nine ministers from Sharif's party, including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, handed in resignations on Tuesday. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani did not accept them. Zardari said he would discuss the resignations with Gilani on Thursday.

The fate of judges sacked by Musharraf in November after he imposed emergency rule has monopolised the attention of the coalition, to the cost, critics say, of action on economic woes including surging inflation and a sliding currency.

The rupee has fallen nearly 12 percent this year as the brewing political crisis has undermined a currency under pressure from a rising oil import bill and fiscal deficit.

Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted when he seized power in 1999, had made the reinstatement of the judges his main condition for joining the coalition.

Zardari says he too wants to reinstate the 60, who were seen as hostile to Musharraf and who would be likely to take up legal challenges that could see the president forced from power.

Their restoration is likely to spark a showdown with Musharraf, which Zardari wants to avoid, and the two leaders have failed to agree on how it should be done.

The split in the coalition, analysts say, would be welcomed by U.S. ally Musharraf, and reinforces a perception that Zardari is in league with the unpopular president.

Like Musharraf, Zardari is wary of the return of some of the purged judges, particularly former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who accepted legal challenges to an amnesty Musharraf granted Zardari, Bhutto and others over

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