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Pakistanis Celebrate Musharraf Departure, but Cracks in Coalition Loom

The resignation of President Pervez Musharraf was an important political victory for a government that has been deadlocked on a wide range of issues for months. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that Pakistanis are largely welcoming the president's departure, but the coalition's future remains uncertain.

Following Pervez Musharraf's resignation, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the leader of the coalition government that had opposed the president, addressed Pakistan's national assembly in a rousing speech celebrating their political victory.

He says he congratulates the nation because today democracy has dawned and dictatorship has ended forever.

Across the capital city, supporters of the ruling coalition danced in the streets and fed each other sweets, celebrating the end of a long struggle against a man who had largely sidelined their parties for eight years.

Other Pakistanis in the capital were more circumspect about the resignation. Hamid Rehman spoke to VOA in the city's Aabpara market.

He says Musharraf should not have resigned because he was a good leader. He actually did what other politicians had only promised. He says whatever mistakes he made, he was not the one responsible because he was under a lot of pressure from the United States.

Elsewhere in Islamabad, Rajat Tassaduk said he supported Mr. Musharraf's decision to resign, rather than fight impeachment.

He says he should have done it long ago. But now it is time for politicians to promote an atmosphere of reconciliation so the country can progress.

It is unclear if the country's ruling coalition can effectively unite around an issue besides its opposition to Mr. Musharraf.

The two largest parties in the coalition, the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League - N, both held power in 1990s and were frequently political opponents. Both parties were also dismissed for corruption and mismanagement of the economy.

Just hours after Mr. Musharraf's departure, coalition leaders held a meeting in Islamabad to discuss what are expected to be their next main policy issues: whether to bring charges against the former president, how to restore the judges Mr. Musharraf deposed and who will be Pakistan's next president. The meeting ended without a public statement.

Muhammad Mian Soomro, the president of the Senate, has assumed the office of acting president. Under the constitution, Pakistan's four provincial assemblies and the national assembly choose the country's president through an election. In Karachi, the co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 19, was asked who would become the country's next president.

"It will be someone from the Pakistan People's Party," he said.

But PML-N leaders have already said that Pakistan's next president will not come from one the two largest parties and instead have proposed prominent leaders from minority parties.

The two parties have also given conflicting statements in recent days about how they plan on restoring the judges sacked by the president last November and whether they plan to criminally charge Mr. Musharraf.