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Embattled Musharraf Urges Reconciliation in Pakistan Independence Day Speech

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has made his first public remarks since political opponents announced their intention to impeach him. In a televised speech marking Pakistan's 61st independence anniversary, the president called for political reconciliation. But VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that hours later, his opponents insisted the impeachment process is moving forward.

Since last week's announcement by Pakistan's ruling political parties that they plan to impeach Pervez Musharraf, only the president's closest allies have been defending him in public, insisting that the opposition does not have enough votes to unseat the unpopular leader.

But following a few high profile defections among his traditional allies this week, anticipation has grown over when Mr. Musharraf - and the powerful military he once led - would respond to the confrontation.

At midnight on Wednesday, the traditional start of Pakistan's 61st anniversary of independence from Britain, both the president and the army chief addressed the nation in separate ceremonies that avoided mentioning the looming political standoff.

At the president's house in the capital, Mr. Musharraf urged reconciliation to address both Pakistan's economic and security problems. He says Pakistan is passing through the most difficult time of its history. He says internal and external elements are trying to weaken and destabilize the country. He says that in his view, there is a conspiracy against state institutions.

The president then said that for the government to properly address economic problems and fight terrorism, there must be political stability.

At Pakistan's Military Academy, Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani mainly spoke about Pakistan's history in an address before hundreds of troops. He said has no doubt Pakistanis have the capability and capacity to surmount all of the country's current challenges.

In the capital, there is great uncertainty over whether Mr. Musharraf will resign or dismiss parliament to avoid the spectacle of facing public accusations of a series of crimes. Opposition leaders say plans are moving forward for formal impeachment proceedings to begin next week.

Faratullah Babar, the spokesman of the Pakistan People's Party, told reporters that political leaders from several parties are meeting Friday to try to finish the so-called "charge sheet" listing the impeachment allegations against the president.

"So on this 14th of August, it is a great pleasure for us to announce that the impeachment process has begun and is moving on the right track," he said.

In another reminder of the country's persistent security threats, police in Lahore said a suicide bomber struck an Independence day rally, killing at least eight people and wounding several others. Investigators said the attacker appeared to have targeted a group of police outside a mosque.