ISTANBUL - TDN with wire dispatches
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, under mounting pressure to resign, may flee to Turkey as Western diplomats are attempting to find an exit for him before he is dragged through a humiliating impeachment process, A UK daily reported yesterday.
�Turkey has long been the favored destination for Musharraf in exile. He is rumored to own property there,� the Guardian newspaper wrote yesterday.
In Pakistan, the embattled leader called for reconciliation to tackle economic problems and Islamist militancy in an Independence Day message, but his appeal apparently failed to check the coalition government's attempts to force him from power, with coalition officials saying preparations to impeach the president were on track.
�He [Musharraf] spent his childhood in Turkey, speaks the language and loves the country. But Turkey is a Muslim-majority country and he may become a target,� the British daily said. The other countries that Musharraf could go to are the United States and Saudi Arabia, or he could remain in Pakistan, the newspaper said.
�The government insiders said that if Musharraf wants to quit, he must do so before the impeachment proceedings begin, leaving him with only a few days. [But] his spokesman has rebutted any suggestion that he will step down. Western diplomats have sought to convince the coalition government that impeachment would further undermine the security and political situation in crisis-racked Pakistan, and that he should instead be offered a �graceful exit,'� the Guardian added.
Coalition leaders Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, the slain former prime minister, and Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister, said last Thursday that they would seek the president's impeachment.
Era of repression is over:
In his first public comments since the ruling coalition announced its impeachment plan last week, the former army chief and firm U.S ally, speaking in a televised Independence Day address, neither referred to the plan to impeach him or 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,� he said.
Hours after Musharraf spoke, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, a senior leader of Bhutto's party, said in his speech to mark the 62nd Independence Day that his government believed in reconciliation between political parties.
Gilani did not mention Musharraf, or respond to his appeal, but in a veiled reference to him said: "The era of repression is over forever. Dictatorship has become a tale of the past."
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was toppled by Musharraf in 1999, said his usurper must face the consequences of his actions.
"If someone breaks the constitution, breaks the laws...should he be rewarded or punished?" he asked while addressing a rally in the eastern city of Lahore.
Bhutto's party spokesman Farhatullah Babar, who is also on a team preparing impeachment charges, said the process to impeach Musharraf was on track and Musharraf had to quit.
Gilani also spoke about the campaign against militancy, saying the problem had to be faced. "The war against extremism and terrorism is a war for our own survival."
Underscoring the threat, shortly before noisy Independence Day celebrations began, a suicide bomb attack on police killed seven people in the eastern city of Lahore.
As the pressure mounts on Musharraf, a crucial question is how the army will react. Coalition leaders said Tuesday the army, which has ruled for more than half the country's history, would not intervene to back its old boss. The uncertainty is unnerving investors, with the rupee setting a new low of about 75.10 to the dollar Wednesday and stocks hovering near two-year lows. Referring to the rupee, Musharraf said the flight of capital out of the country had to be stopped. Financial markets were closed yesterday.