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Newly Elected Pakistani Lawmakers Call on Musharraf to Convene Assembly

The political parties in what is expected to become the new ruling coalition in Pakistan's national assembly have held their first joint meeting, calling on President Pervez Musharraf to convene the assembly as soon as possible. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad the parties claim they are nearing the critical two-thirds majority needed to impeach President Musharraf.

Lawmakers from the three main parties comprising what could be Pakistan's new ruling coalition gathered in a downtown hotel in Islamabad Wednesday and urged President Musharraf to convene what is expected to be a hostile parliament as soon as possible.

In remarks carried live on private Pakistani news channels, Pakistan Muslim League-N leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif continued his strong stand against President Musharraf.

"On behalf of all of my colleagues here I would like to inform Mr. Musharraf that we are not prepared to wait for a single more day for the assembly to be convened," he said.

The president cannot convene the assembly before the election commission formally certifies the final tally of the February 18 polls. The chief election commissioner has told VOA that officials plan to meet March 1 and issue the formal notification soon afterwards.

Lawmakers at Wednesday's meeting claimed they now have 171 lawmakers in their coalition, including several independents. . The coalition needs 182 of the 272 assembly seats allotted through elections to have the two-thirds "super majority" required to impeach the president.

Criticism of President Musharraf and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party united these opposition lawmakers before the elections. Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali also said they shared in the loss from the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

"Yes, Benazir Bhutto belonged to the People's Party, but she also belonged to the moderate democratic forces of Pakistan," he said.

Since the elections, Ms. Bhutto's legacy and the general opposition to President Musharraf have been overshadowed by emerging divisions among the parties, particularly on the issue of reinstating Pakistan's senior judges.

President Musharraf dismissed the Supreme Court and other senior judges when he declared emergency rule last November. Critics accuse him of overthrowing an independent court that challenged his tight grip on power.

Mr. Sharif has insisted the judges should be reinstated as soon as possible, but PPP leader Asif Zardari has indicated that he wants parliament to decide the issue