Musharraf cancels China trip amid doubts on future

Aug. 06, 2008, 5:12 a.m. (ET)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan(AP) Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday abruptly canceled his trip to the Beijing Olympic Games as local media reported that the ruling coalition had agreed on steps to remove him.

``The visit has been canceled,'' said Mohammed Sadiq, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. He gave no further details on the scuttled Wednesday departure.

The announcement came as the leaders of Pakistan's main ruling parties met for a second day in the capital, Islamabad, to discuss how to restore dozens of judges fired by Musharraf as well as to consider the unpopular president's fate.

Local newspapers citing unnamed sources reported Wednesday that the ruling party leaders - who have fallen out among themselves in recent months - had reached a consensus Tuesday on what steps to take to oust Musharraf.

Dawn, one of Pakistan's leading English-language papers, reported that the two main parties had agreed to formally request that Musharraf step down and impeach him through parliamentary measures ``if he did not oblige.''

Party officials declined to comment on the reports about the meeting between Asif Ali Zardari, head of the largest coalition party, and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who heads the second biggest party.

``Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif at Tuesday's meeting discussed the issue of restoration of judges and other political matters, but I cannot go into details,'' said Farhatullah Babar, a Zardari party spokesman.

Babar said Zardari, the widower of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, also was invited by China to attend the Olympics, but he, too, had canceled the trip.

He said Bhutto and Zardari's son, Bilawal, who technically inherited the party's leadership but is finishing his studies at Oxford, will attend instead.

Musharraf, long an ally of the U.S. in the war on terror, seized power in a bloodless 1999 military coup by ousting Sharif's government. But Musharraf's political allies lost February elections, ramping up pressure on him to quit.

Still, internal coalition squabbling has weakened efforts by the new government to put up a united front against the president, who is deeply disliked among Pakistanis.

Zardari and Sharif have bickered over exactly how to restore the judges that Musharraf sacked last year to avoid legal challenges to his rule. The two also have had differences over how to push Musharraf out.

Sharif wants the judges restored quickly, possibly through an executive order from the prime minister. Zardari has tried to link their return to a package of constitutional reforms.

Sharif also has been more aggressive about wanting to impeach Musharraf.

The standoff has hampered the functioning of the government amid mounting economic problems and Islamic militancy. Sharif pulled his ministers from the Cabinet in May, but says his party still supports the coalition.