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Musharraf Spokesman Denies Resignation Rumors as Impeachment Bid Looms

BY Admin  August 15, 2008 at 1:10 PM EST

A portrait of Pervez Musharraf is burned; AP photo

Rashid Qureshi told reporters that Musharraf would not resign or seek immunity.

“These unsubstantiated spate of reports are totally baseless and malicious,” Qureshi said, according to the Associated Press. He claimed such talk was having a “negative impact” on the country’s economy.

However, Tariq Azim, a top official in the main pro-Musharraf party, says talks are under way for the former army chief to avoid impeachment He told the AP that the discussions include guarantees that he will avoid criminal charges.

Azim said another option would be to strip the presidency down to a figurehead position.

Asked if Musharraf had decided to quit, Azim said he was still weighing his options. “There are people who are advising him to avoid confrontation, but I don’t think he has made up his mind,” Azim said in an AP interview.

Chaudhry Shujaat, the chairman of the Musharraf-allied party Pakistan Muslim League-Q, told an English-language television channel in the region that Musharraf told him in a meeting on Friday that he would deal with the charges “in a democratic spirit and in accordance with the Constitution,” the New York Times reported.

An impeachment motion is expected to be brought to the Parliament as early as next week. Ruling coalition leaders Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced the bid to impeach Musharraf over charges of abuse of office last Thursday.

Speaking Thursday in a televised Independence Day address, Musharraf called for political stability and reconciliation to tackle the country’s economic and security problems.

Musharraf did not refer to a plan to impeach him drawn up by a coalition government led by the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In his first public comments since the coalition announced its impeachment plan last week, the firm U.S ally also did not refer to the calls for him to step down.

“If we want to put our economy on the right track and fight terrorism then we need political stability. Unless we bring political stability, I think we can’t fight them properly,” Musharraf said, according to Reuters.

Musharraf has been at the center of a political crisis since early last year that has heightened concerns in the United States and among its allies about the stability of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Muslim state that is also a hiding place for al-Qaida leaders.

Speculation has been rife that Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, would quit rather than face impeachment, though his spokesman has consistently denied that.

Coalition officials were not available for comment but Musharraf’s appeal for unity would appear unlikely to overcome what they call a ”tidal wave” of opposition to him.

A growing number of politicians, including some old allies, have called on Musharraf to face a vote of confidence or be impeached.

Pakistan’s political showdown is unnerving investors, with the rupee setting a new low against the dollar and stocks hovering near two-year lows.

As the pressure mounts on Musharraf, a crucial question is how the army, which has ruled for more than half the country’s history, will react. Coalition leaders said on Tuesday the army would not intervene to back its old boss.

Musharraf has anchored Pakistan’s backing for the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy since 2001. The new government has vowed to maintain support even though the policy is deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis.

The United States has urged the government to focus on a deteriorating economy and spreading militancy but has not commented on the impeachment, saying it is a Pakistani issue.

Musharraf’s popularity began to evaporate last year when he clashed with the judiciary and imposed emergency rule to ensure another term. His rivals won February parliamentary elections and have sought to push him out.