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Musharraf Faces Hecklers in Parliament - 2004-01-17

Against a steady drumbeat of shouts and table-thumping by opposition lawmakers, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf addressed the country's parliament for the first time Saturday, calling for a drive against extremism and support for the rights of women.

Despite receiving a parliamentary vote of confidence earlier this month confirming him as president until 2007, Mr. Musharraf was heckled by opposition lawmakers throughout his half hour address on Saturday.

Members of the minor opposition parties, which opposed the recent vote of confidence in the president, chanted slogans and pounded their desks.

It was the first time Mr. Musharraf had faced parliament since taking power in a 1999 coup. But members of the main opposition, an alliance of religious parties that supported the deal confirming Mr. Musharraf as president, staged a walk-out before the speech began.

Alliance leaders say the walk-out was meant to protest the president's policy of seeking compromise with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

They also object to his conducting a military campaign against suspected Islamic militants in the country's semi-autonomous tribal area, saying such operations trample the rights of residents there.

An apparent government decision to divert two planes bringing opposition members to the proceedings added to the opposition's anger. Officials say the aircraft were diverted for unspecified "security" reasons.

In spite of the noise, Mr. Musharraf carried on with his speech, calling for a "jihad" or "struggle" against militant extremists in Pakistan.

The president, who survived two assassination attempts last month, said religious extremism in particular represents a danger to Pakistan, and has given Islam a bad image in the rest of the world.

He also spoke of Pakistan's improving economy, saying the time had come to reduce the fiscal deficit and to seek self-sufficiency in energy with a combination of coal, oil and nuclear power. He said Pakistanis must respect the rights of women and minorities, or face chaos and disunity.