Pakistani president swears in PM Gilani
Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf Reuters, ISLAMABAD - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf swore in Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday as two senior U.S. officials arrived for talks including Pakistan's role in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

The new National Assembly overwhelmingly backed Gilani, a top official from assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's party, to become prime minister in a vote on Monday.

In an apparent snub to the increasingly isolated Musharraf, Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and their son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who together lead her party, declined to attend the oath-taking ceremony at the presidency.

Gilani called for political parties to cooperate to solve looming problems, especially economic difficulties.

"All forces have to get together and bring the country out of these crises and for that we need everybody's support," Gilani, standing beside Musharraf, told reporters after he was sworn in.

Musharraf's popularity has largely evaporated over the past year and his political allies were soundly beaten in Feb. 18 elections won by Bhutto's party weeks after she was assassinated.

Musharraf, a vital U.S. ally in the campaign against terrorism, has dismissed opponents' calls to step down and he urged all political forces to work together to tackle the country's problems.

"A difficult era in terms of terrorism, extremism and the economy is ahead," he said.

Also invited to the swearing-in was former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party came second to Bhutto's party in the election, state television said, but he too declined to attend.

Sharif is the prime minister then army chief Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup and he has repeatedly called for Musharraf to resign. His party is joining a coalition led by Bhutto's party with two smaller parties.

"NO MORE ONE-MAN SHOW"

Sharif was meeting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher as Gilani was sworn in. The U.S. officials were also expected to meet Gilani and Musharraf, media said.

Analysts said the United States was keen to make contacts with Pakistan's new coalition government leaders.

Some have spoken of the need to open talks with the militants responsible for a wave of suicide attacks and that has raised questions about Pakistan's strategy in the fight against militancy, especially with Musharraf's power ebbing.

Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led campaign has been deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis who have criticised the president for, as they see it, doing the bidding of the United States and provoking militant violence.

Sharif said he told the U.S. officials Pakistan's policy would no longer be Musharraf's "one-man show", which did not have the support of the people, but would be decided by parliament.
"Now all issues will be brought before parliament. The representatives of the people will review all aspects of those issues," Sharif told a news conference.

A parliamentary committee would review the security situation, including Musharraf's handling of it, and make recommendations, he said.

Sharif also said he had told the U.S. officials Musharraf was an illegal president and should go.

On Monday, shortly after 264 members of the 342-seat lower house voted for Gilani to become prime minister, he issued a challenge to Musharraf, ordering the release of judges detained after the president declared emergency rule in November.

Authorities soon removed barricades from outside the house of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and all other judges held under house arrest.

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

The United States and other Western allies fear more instability in their nuclear-armed ally if there is a confrontation between the president and the new government.

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