Pakistan’s Musharraf Scraps Olympic Visit Amid Ouster Talks

ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday abruptly cancelled plans to attend the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, as Pakistan’s coalition government held talks on his possible impeachment.

The US-backed leader scrapped the trip ahead of a second day of crucial meetings between the leaders of the fragile coalition, which trounced Musharraf’s allies in elections in February.

“The Chinese government has been informed that the president will not be able to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing,” foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq told AFP.

“I cannot immediately tell you the reason for it,” Sadiq said, adding that a state media report quoting him as saying that the decision was “due to developments at home” was inaccurate.

A presidential spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 military coup, had been due to leave for China early on Wednesday. It is highly unusual for a Pakistani leader to shelve a visit to China, the country’s “all-weather” ally.

The president has resisted growing pressure to quit in recent weeks, saying he was willing to work with the coalition to tackle problems such as rising Islamic militancy and soaring food and fuel prices.

“The cancellation of the China visit by President Musharraf is an important development,” said a senior government official who declined to be named, adding that Musharraf had also been due to meet Chinese leaders.

“Given our special relationship and friendly ties with China, it is unimaginable that a Pakistani leader would cancel his visit – and that, too, for a very important occasion for our ally,” the official said.

Pakistani media reports said Musharraf’s decision was prompted by alarm over Tuesday’s meetings between coalition leaders Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Zardari had also cancelled a planned visit to China, one of Pakistan’s main military backers, for the opening of the Olympic Games, said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party.

The News, an English language daily, reported that Sharif and Zardari called the talks amid fears that Musharraf himself might strike the first blow by dissolving parliament.

The pair had agreed formally to ask Musharraf to quit and then impeach him through parliament if he refused, said Dawn, another leading newspaper.

Sharif and Zardari met for a second time on Wednesday, and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party said that a decision on impeachment was likely.

“The time to take a final decision has come,” party spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said after a meeting of the party in the hill resort of Murree, near Islamabad.

“General Musharraf is a commando and he might make a commando attack on the parliament just like he did on November 3,” he said, referring to the day Musharraf imposed a state of emergency last year.

The coalition has been split by the twin issues of what to do about Musharraf and how to carry out their pledge to reinstate senior judges sacked by the president under emergency rule.

The rift has caused a sense of paralysis in the government, which is under huge US pressure over its efforts to negotiate with Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants based near the Afghan border.

– AFP/so

Channel News Asia

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