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Pakistan's Parliament Convenes


Pakistan's parliament has convened in Islamabad, but nothing significant is expected to happen until later this month when a new government is installed. But as VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the capital the goals of the lawmakers may put them in conflict with the country's president and his supporters in Washington and elsewhere.

Members of the party of the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto took their seats in the National Assembly wearing rosettes picturing their slain leader. The Pakistan Peoples Party holds the most seats and should be able to successfully put forward a candidate for prime minister later in the month.

That would bring about the first transfer to civilian rule since President Pervez Musharraf took power in a 1999 military coup.

Mrs. Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, who now co-chairs the PPP, called the convening of the 13th National Assembly a signal to the world that democracy is returning to Pakistan.

Zardari says the days of dictatorship are over, and with the support of the people lawmakers have ensured democracy is back on track.

The runner-up party in last month's election, the Muslim League faction of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has pledged to support the PPP's candidate for prime minister. There is intense speculation that Zardari covets the post, but an interim prime minister would need to be selected until Zardari wins a seat in Parliament, presumably during an upcoming by-election.

An agreement between the PPP and Sharif's party calls for 60 high-court judges ousted by the president to be reinstated within 30 days. Mr. Musharraf fired the justices during a six-week period of emergency rule last November.

Those removed included Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, an opponent of the president. After Chaudhry's ouster, the re-organized Supreme Court affirmed the former general's reelection to the presidency.

Some lawmakers are vowing to take action during the parliamentary session to try to remove Mr. Musharraf from his post.

After a one-day break, Parliament reconvenes on Wednesday.

Lawmakers were sworn in Monday in an area of the capital that was sealed off.

Security was increased in Islamabad following Saturday night's bombing of an Italian restaurant frequented by diplomats and other foreigners. The attack killed a Turkish woman and wounded a number of other patrons; including Americans, Britons, Canadians, Chinese and Japanese. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that four of its agents were among the wounded.

Terrorist attacks have been escalating in Pakistan with hundreds of Pakistanis being killed in recent months. The government blames the attacks on extremists opposed to Pakistan's participation on the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Following a campaign rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, prime minister frontrunner Mrs. Bhutto was killed by a suicide bomber. Her party won the most seats in the February 18 election, but not enough to govern alone.

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