- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

LAHORE, Pakistan - A Pakistani leader stepped up the pressure on President Pervez Musharraf yesterday, branding him a “traitor” and saying that the ruling coalition had agreed to oust the former army strongman.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leads the second-largest party in a coalition that took power two months ago after routing Mr. Musharraf’s supporters in elections.

In a speech to fist-pumping supporters yesterday, Mr. Sharif said Asif Ali Zardari, whose party leads the coalition, agreed in Tuesday talks to remove Mr. Musharraf.

But a spokeswoman for Mr. Zardari said that although his party might consider impeaching Mr. Musharraf, its priority was to cut back the president’s powers.

Mr. Sharif addressed a gathering of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party to mark the 10th anniversary of the atomic bomb test that made Pakistan the world’s only Islamic nuclear power.

Mr. Sharif was prime minister at the time. His government was later ousted by then-army chief Gen. Musharraf in a 1999 coup, and the two men remain bitter political enemies.

In his speech, Mr. Sharif accused Mr. Musharraf of having “destroyed” the nation during his eight-year dominance of Pakistan’s politics.

“A high-treason case should be registered against him, and he should be given the punishment of a traitor,” Mr. Sharif said to cheers in a conference hall in the eastern city of Lahore. “There is no need to give him a safe exit.”

He said Mr. Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, “agreed to remove” Mr. Musharraf during a meeting of the two coalition leaders on Tuesday.

Farzana Raja, a spokesman for Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party, said there was “no specific talk” of impeaching Mr. Musharraf in Tuesday’s discussions.

She said her party wanted to avoid a confrontation with the presidency and was focused on a package of constitutional amendments that would strip him of the power to dissolve parliament and appoint top officials.

However, she said her party could “think about” impeaching the president if its allies are united in seeking such a move.

Mr. Musharraf’s spokesman denied speculation that the president was considering quitting - talk that sent Pakistan’s stock market spinning lower yesterday.

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