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Pakistan Ruling Coalition Pledges to Pursue Musharraf Impeachment

Top leaders of Pakistan's ruling coalition government say they have agreed on a plan to pursue impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad, where Pakistan People's Party leader Asif Zardari explained their plan to unseat the president and to restore the judges who were ousted by Mr. Musharraf last year.

Pakistan's coalition government has been deadlocked for months over whether it will impeach president Musharraf and restore the top judges he fired last November. The leaders have long said they agreed in principle on the issues, but were divided over the process.

But in a news conference Thursday led by Pakistan People's Party leader Asif Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif, the two announced a strategy to unseat the unpopular leader.

"The coalition leadership believes it has become imperative to move for impeachment under article 47 against General Musharraf," said Zardari.

Article 47 states that a president can be removed from office for violating the constitution. Mr. Musharraf's political opponents argue he violated this provision when he suspended the constitution last November and declared emergency rule.

Zardari also said Pakistan's four provincial assemblies would pass resolutions demanding Mr. Musharraf seek a vote of confidence in parliament - which he had pledged to do last year.

President Musharraf still retains the power to dismiss parliament and thus neutralize his political opponents. Such a move would require the backing of Pakistan's powerful military but it is unclear if the military would support the former army chief. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said such a move would not be possible in Pakistan's current political environment.

He said this is not the Pakistan of the 1980s or 1990s, when elected governments were dismissed. He said Pakistan has changed and the country cannot afford another declaration of martial law.

The two political leaders also addressed the issue of restoring judges deposed by President Musharraf. The Pakistan People's Party has been criticized by Nawaz Sharif for not honoring the so-called Murree Declaration that outlined steps for restoring the judiciary. PPP leader Zardari said the judges will be restored once the president is impeached.

"The coalition leadership further resolved to restore all judges removed through extra constitutional means by General Musharraf on November 3, 2007, strictly in accordance with the Murree declaration, immediately after the impeachment of the president," he said.

Mr. Musharraf's political allies have been skeptical that the ruling coalition has the required two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament to unseat the leader through impeachment. But in Thursday's news conference with reporters, Zardari said he hoped 90 percent of lawmakers would vote against the president.