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Pakistan's Musharraf Rejects Pressure to Quit Army Post in Bhutto Deal

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has rejected "any pressure or ultimatum" to step down as army chief in a power-sharing deal with exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

General Musharraf's spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, issued a statement Thursday, saying the president will never work "under any pressure or ultimatum," adding that he will make "all decisions only in national interest at appropriate times," and according to law.

On Wednesday, in interviews with various news agencies, Ms. Bhutto said she expected the president to quit his post of army chief before the next presidential elections expected later this year. She also called for a firm commitment from him within the next few days.

Ms. Bhutto has been meeting with aides of the military leader in London, where she has been living in self-imposed exile following allegations of corruption during her two terms as prime minister. She is reportedly also seeking to lift the ban on serving a third term as prime minister.

A Pakistani Cabinet minister and presidential aide, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, told reporters Wednesday that a deal between General Musharraf and the former prime minister is 80 percent complete. But he provided no further details and there has been no confirmation from President Musharraf.

Another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, says he is willing to face the risk of jail in order to return to Pakistan ahead of Ramadan in mid-September. Mr. Sharif condemned Ms. Bhutto for negotiating with General Musharraf, saying that she is strengthening dictatorship.

Mr. Sharif has refused to negotiate with General Musharraf, who ousted him from power in a coup in 1999.

In an interview with London's Financial Times newspaper, he also warned that continuing U.S. support for General Musharraf will give further impetus to Islamic extremists.

General Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, is seeking re-election by parliament in September or October.

But Pakistan's Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the legality of General Musharraf's dual role of president and army chief and to his re-election by the country's existing legislature.

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