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US wants Musharraf as civilian president
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15:13, February 22, 2008

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The United States said yesterday it looked forward to working with a new Pakistani government with Pervez Musharraf as civilian president, despite indications that election winners might seek to force him out.

Speaking during a visit to Brussels, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said that Pakistan had made a successful democratic transition and made clear Washington would prefer to see Musharraf stay in place. "We look forward to working with whoever emerges as prime minister, we look forward to working with President Musharraf in his new role," Boucher told a news conference.

The leaders of the two parties that came out on top in Pakistan's election on Monday met yesterday to discuss forming a coalition that could force Musharraf out.

Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew in a 1999 military coup and whose party came second in the election, goes into the coalition talks having made clear he would like to drive the president from power.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated on December 27, emerged as the main victor in the poll. It says it will be up to parliament to decide which president it could work with.

US President George W. Bush on Wednesday called the Pakistani elections a victory for the people, and said he hoped the newly elected officials would be friends of the United States.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters traveling with Bush to Liberia that the president had telephoned Musharraf on Tuesday on flight from Rwanda to Ghana. She gave no further details of what the two men discussed.

Asked about concerns for Musharraf's future given his status as a key US ally in the battle against Islamist militancy, Boucher said: "Pakistan has been a key us ally with Musharraf as the leader. Pakistan will remain a key us ally with Musharraf and the prime minister and others as leaders."

However, when asked if Washington could envisage working with a government that did not have Musharraf at its head, Boucher said: "We can envisage working with a Pakistani government that is duly constituted... We have said all along we look forward to working with whoever emerges from the election."

Yesterday, Pakistan's deposed chief justice rallied supporters from house arrest, saying the new government should immediately restore judges axed by Musharraf during emergency rule. Soon after, police fired tear gas at nearly 200 rock-throwing protesters who tried to remove barricades from in front of the judge's home.

Rallies also were held the southern city of Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore and the southwestern city of Quetta - highlighting some of the challenges the country's two top opposition parties will face as they prepare to form a new government.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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