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Pakistan Opposition Walks Out of Parliamentary Session - 2003-06-10

Pakistan's parliamentary opposition is boycotting a key budget debate to demand that President Pervez Musharraf loosen his grip on power. Opposition members of Pakistan's Parliament staged a walkout, as lawmakers met to debate the national budget.

The legislators want President Musharraf to chose between the presidency and his command of the army. The Pakistani leader says he plans to retain both offices.

They also oppose changes Mr. Musharraf made to the Constitution last year, giving himself wide-ranging powers, including the right to dismiss Parliament. The president took power in a 1999 coup.

After chanting anti-Musharraf slogans, the lawmakers marched out of the chambers. Opposition leaders say they will not return until the president moves to recognize the sovereignty of the Parliament.

The walkout was staged as the legislative body begins a crucial budget debate. President Musharraf's party says the draft budget marks a major effort at fighting poverty.

The protesters include Pakistan's major alliance of religious parties, as well as the political supporters of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Both sides have tried to arrange talks to solve the political crisis. The effort has failed over disputes such as who should attend the negotiations and what should be on the agenda.

The opposition boycott is largely symbolic, however, as Mr. Musharraf's party holds a parliamentary majority, allowing it to pass the budget with or without the opposition.