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US Envoy to Meet Pakistan's New Prime Minister


Pakistan's president has sworn in a political enemy as prime minister. Meanwhile, two top U.S. State Department officials arrived in the country and held talks with the embattled president and the new government leaders. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Islamabad.

At exactly noon, a stone-faced President Pervez Musharraf administered the oath of office to new Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who spent more than four years in jail under Mr. Musharraf's rule.

"May Allah Almighty help and guide me, Amen," Mr. Musharraf said.

"May Allah Almighty help and guide me, Amen," Mr. Gilani repeated.

Some supporters of the prime minister then began chanting "Long Live Bhutto."

If she had not been assassinated on December 27, it is possible former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto would have been the one taking the oath of office.

Her Pakistan Peoples Party swept to victory, on a wave of sympathy, in last month's elections. The runner-up party, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has joined the party of his rival, the late Ms. Bhutto, to form an anti-Musharraf coalition.

Pakistan's evolving political framework throws into doubt the level of the country's future cooperation with the United States on confronting terrorism. Mr. Musharraf has been a staunch ally of Washington in the global anti-terrorism campaign.

Pakistani officials say two top American envoys, John Negroponte, deputy secretary of state, and Richard Boucher, assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, spent 90 minutes with President Musharraf.

The American envoys also scheduled talks with Prime Minister Gilani.

They earlier met Mr. Sharif, a key player in the new coalition. He says he told the American diplomats President Musharraf can no longer make guarantees to Washington on Pakistan's behalf, because the era of one-man rule has ended.

"I told them very frankly, I said, Musharraf is a man whom we consider an unconstitutional president, an illegal president and who does not enjoy the support of the people of Pakistan," Sharif said.

The former prime minister says Musharraf's decisions of the past eight years were meant to promote the former army chief's personal interests and national policy will now be formulated by the parliament.

A showdown is looming between the new government and the president concerning the judiciary. The coalition has pledged to restore to the bench judges removed last year by the president. But the replacement Supreme Court has ruled the dismissals of their predecessors to be constitutional.

After his selection by parliament, the new prime minister immediately freed the ousted judges, who had been under house arrest for more than four months.


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