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January 11, 2012

Pakistan's President Travels to Dubai Amid Crisis

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari flew to the United Arab Emirates Thursday, amid growing tensions between Pakistan's civilian government and the military.

Officials said Mr. Zardari was to attend a wedding in Dubai and will be back in Pakistan on Friday.  They also said the trip is not linked to the current crisis in Pakistan.

The 56-year-old Pakistani leader went to the United Arab Emirates last month for medical treatment after falling ill.  The president's trip came as army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met with top commanders on Thursday. Officials said the senior military officers discussed the "prevailing situation."

The crisis between the government and military stems from an unsigned memo that allegedly sought U.S. help to prevent a military coup in Pakistan.

Pakistan's Supreme Court is investigating the memo, which was allegedly sent by a Pakistani official to the U.S. military last year.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani fired Defense Secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi for his role in submitting statements to the Supreme Court made by two top security officials.

Mr. Gilani also accused the two officials, army chief Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence head Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, of acting unlawfully by making unilateral submissions to the Supreme Court inquiry.

Those remarks prompted Pakistan's military on Wednesday to warn of "grievous consequences" for the country.

A Supreme Court-appointed panel is investigating the origins of the unsigned memo, in which Pakistan's civilian government asked for U.S. help in reining in the Pakistani military, following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May.

The existence of the memo surfaced in October when Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz accused the then-Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, of writing the memo.  Haqqani denies he wrote the document and has since resigned.

The army has ruled Pakistan for must of its existence since independence from Britain in 1947. There have been three military coups in Pakistan, and no civilian government has ever completed its term in office.

Analysts say General Kayani does not want a coup but that generals would not object to President Zardari being dismissed through constitutional means.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday the United States stands "strongly in favor" of a democratically-elected civilian government in Pakistan. She added the U.S. expects Pakistan to resolve any internal issues in a "just and transparent manner" that upholds Pakistan's laws and constitution.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.