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Pakistan's President Resigns

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has announced his resignation, before his political opponents planned to begin impeachment proceedings against him. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad, where Mr. Musharraf denied any wrongdoing and said he is stepping down for the good of the country.

The president announced his resignation live on national television, during a midday address from the president's house in Islamabad. The president at times appeared emotional during the hour-long speech, as he reviewed the accomplishments of his nearly nine years in power.

The president scoffed at the as-yet unspecified impeachment charges against him - calling them baseless. However, he said that contesting them could further destabilize the country.
He says he is resigning for the good of Pakistan.

Mr. Musharraf's resignation ends a remarkable political career that began when he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. During much of his reign, he maintained a tight grip on Pakistan's military and the political establishment.

But, during a series of legal challenges to his rule last year, he dismissed the government and declared a state of emergency. Mr. Musharraf then came under increasing domestic and international pressure for more political openness. He later stepped down as army chief and held national elections that saw his party soundly defeated.

Pakistan People's Party Senator Raza Rabbani called the Musharraf resignation a victory for democracy.

"I think this is perhaps the first time in Pakistan's political history where you have the will of the people prevailing over establishment institutions," the senator said.

Mr. Musharraf says his political opponents have made baseless accusations against him, including blaming him for the country's faltering economy that only further plummeted after they came to power.

In recent months, rolling blackouts, rising food prices, a sinking stock market and the devaluation of the Pakistani Rupee have been top issues in the impoverished country.

Ehsan Iqbal is a spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League-N party. He says Mr. Musharraf's resignation will allow the government to address other pressing issues.

"Musharraf's exit will only make Pakistan more stable," Iqbal said. "You have seen that Pakistan's stock market has responded very positively. And, you have seen that the rupee has appreciated against the dollar. And, the restoration of judges will only improve things even further."

With Mr. Musharraf's departure, the restoration of the top judges he dismissed is expected to be high on the agenda of the coalition government.

But the president's fate is also under scrutiny, because some political leaders have indicated they want to press criminal charges against him.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party. He says the president's crimes include the imprisonment of judges, as well as restrictions on the media and civil society.

"We are very clear and consistent in our stance that General Pervez Musharraf should be brought into a court of law to answer for the crimes he has committed against the people of Pakistan," he said.

In recent days, some politicians have indicated that, if the president resigned, he could be granted legal immunity or be given safe passage into exile in another country.

Mr. Musharraf addressed his legal fate near the end of his resignation speech, saying that he wanted to let "the nation and the public" determine his future.

"Let them be the judges and let them do justice, " he said.

In concluding his live address, Mr. Musharraf's said "I am going, but God save Pakistan."