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Pakistani Opposition Parties Form Coalition Government


Two rival opposition political parties in Pakistan have agreed to form a governing coalition after emerging on top in last month's national election. But as VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Islamabad the just-announced alliance leaves unresolved the fate of unpopular President Pervez Musharraf.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, the husband of the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, shook hands in front of reporters to seal a pact they say will restore democracy to Pakistan.

Sharif says the last major unresolved issue was resolved during a lunch with Pakistan Peoples' Party leader Zardari.

"The restoration of the deposed judges, as it was on 2nd of November 2007, shall be brought about through a parliamentary resolution to be passed in the National Assembly within 30 days of the formation of the federal government," Sharif said.

The agreement in the Punjab resort town of Murree was reached one year to the day after President Pervez Musharraf suspended the country's supreme court chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry. The president later ousted other top judges and appointed replacements more loyal to him.

The chief justice was placed under house arrest last November, when the president declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. That sparked repeated violent clashes between lawyers and police.

The Pakistan Peoples' Party captured the most seats in the National Assembly in last month's election, after President Musharraf lifted the state of emergency. The party had been headed by former prime minister Bhutto, who was assassinated leaving a campaign rally in late December.

Bhutto's husband, Zardari, asked for the international community's patience as Pakistan begins, what he calls, a slow and gradual move on the road to full democracy.

"Please give us a chance. We are bound together in the spirit of democracy," Zardari said. "Pakistanis have spoken and they have spoken the language of democracy. They are asking for a chance to come up to the standards of the civilized world."

Sharif and Bhutto were longtime political adversaries, further complicating efforts to form a coalition after their followers captured the most seats in last month's election.

Sharif has insisted Musharraf must go quickly, echoing public sentiment. He said the embattled president must listen to the will of the people. Zardari, typically more restrained, made no direct condemnation of the president, saying that everything could not be achieved in one day.

As the coalition agreement was announced, lawyers nationwide kicked off "Black-Flag Week," the latest campaign by activist bar associations to pressure the unpopular president and incoming lawmakers to quickly resolve the judicial crisis. Police fired tear gas at hundreds of lawyers demonstrating in the capital on Sunday shortly after the coalition agreement was announced.

During the past year, the lawyers have been at the forefront of organized protests against Musharraf who, under considerable international pressure, lifted the state of emergency last December and did not hinder the February elections, in which the Muslim League faction backing him performed poorly.

President Musharraf announced Friday that the National Assembly would convene this month. The lawmakers are to name a prime minister, who will be nominated by the Pakistan Peoples' Party. The lawmakers are also expected to debate Mr. Musharraf's fate, but it appears unlikely they will have the necessary votes to force him from office.

The president stepped down as army chief last year. The former general came to power in 1999 when he ousted Sharif in a bloodless coup. Since India was partitioned and Pakistan created in 1947, the government has passed back and forth between civilian and military hands.


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