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Pakistan's President Musharraf to Keep Military Chief Post

In a final formality, a bill allowing Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to retain his concurrent post as armed forces chief has now been signed into law. Opposition protests over Mr. Musharraf's dual roles seem to be having little effect.

Standing in for the traveling President Musharraf, the head of Pakistan's senate signed the so-called "Uniform Bill" into law, removing the last legal hurdle to Mr. Musharraf's staying on as military chief.

The president has promised to leave the military by the end of 2004. But he has strongly signaled in recent months he had changed his mind. Now he can legally.

Pakistan's opposition alliance of conservative religious parties, known as the Mutahidda Majlis-e Amal (MMA), is crying foul. Members say the president is reneging on a deal with the M.M.A. last year in which they supported sweeping new powers for Mr. Musharraf in exchange for his military retirement.

The alliance says Mr. Musharraf's dual roles give him too much power and threaten to turn Pakistan's democracy into a military dictatorship.

M.M.A. leaders have staged demonstrations and will hold a final rally on December 19 to press Mr. Musharraf on the issue. They vow to begin a massive protest movement if their demand is ignored.

But political commentator Ayaz Amir says the MMA holds little power in terms of mobilizing popular support.

"Their impact is limited," he noted. "They represent a fringe of Pakistani politics, they don't represent the mainstream."

Mr. Amir adds that the international community is not likely to join criticism of President Musharraf as being anti-democratic, given his support for the war on terrorism.

"If we stop the cooperation in the fight against al-Qaida, whatever, then everyone will wake up to the dangers to democracy in Pakistan. But before that, no," he added.

General Musharraf took power in a bloodless 1999 coup and was later elected president by referendum.