US attacks kill many in Pakistan, opposition calls for Zardari resign

Pakistan's main opposition party called on Zardari to resign after a court threw out an amnesty protecting figures from corruption charges.

US attacks kill many in Pakistan, opposition calls for Zardari resign

Pakistan's main opposition party on Thursday called on President Asif Ali Zardari to resign after a court threw out an amnesty protecting him and senior government figures from corruption charges.

The Supreme Court declared Wednesday that a 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which contained the amnesty was unconstitutional and struck it down, paving the way for thousands of criminal cases to be revived.

Zardari is immune from prosecution while in office, but that immunity and his eligibility for president could now be challenged, as a number of graft cases were pending against him when the NRO was passed.

Immediately after the ruling, Zardari's spokesmen said the president's ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) respected the decision but there was no question of the president resigning.

But a senior leader of the main opposition party said Zardari should do the right thing and step down.

"He should quit this office in his own interest as well as in the interest of his party and the system. He can get any member of his party elected to the post," said Khawaja Mohammad Asif of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party.

"He will achieve the high moral ground," he said.

Senior figures in the PML-N, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, have already called on Zardari to give up wide-reaching powers inherited from Musharraf to sack the prime minister and dissolve parliament.

Amnesty

Pakistan's constitution guarantees Zardari immunity, but also states that presidential candidates must be pious, honest and truthful and never have been convicted in a criminal case.

The Supreme Court ruling means all old cases covered by the amnesty, most of them corruption cases, have been revived. It also asked the government to seek revival of cases lodged in foreign countries.

Some legal experts say the danger for the president is that the legitimacy of his 2008 election as president could be challenged now that old cases against him have been revived.

Among those protected by the amnesty were the interior and defence ministers and several of Zardari's top aides.

The NRO was passed in October 2007 by then-president Pervez Musharraf, under pressure to hold elections and end about eight years of military rule.

The amnesty was introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf as part of a power-sharing deal brokered with Zardari's late wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, with U.S. and British role.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile soon after the amnesty was introduced, but was assassinated weeks later while campaigning for a general election she hoped to win.

Instead, Zardari led her party to victory in the February 2008 polls and became president after Musharraf stepped down later that year.

But Zardari's image has long been tarnished by allegedly shady deals during Bhutto's two terms as prime minister in the 1990s.

He says the charges were politically motivated. He has never been convicted but nevertheless spent 11 years in jail.

The News newspaper, a fierce critic of the president, said the court decision had ushered in a "moral renaissance".

"Today he (Zardari) must be looking over his shoulder and eyeing his foreign investment portfolio -- not to mention future options as a place of domicile," it said.

In another ominous development for the president, the Supreme Court ordered the government to inform Swiss authorities a case against him there may be reopened.

Swiss judicial authorities said in August 2008 they had closed a money-laundering case against Zardari and had released $60 million frozen in Swiss accounts for a decade, soon after Pakistan dropped out of all cases it had initiated there.

Geneva judicial authorities had for years been investigating allegations Bhutto and Zardari took kickbacks from Swiss cargo inspection companies.

US drone attacks

Meanwhile, U.S. drone aircraft fired seven missiles on Thursday into Pakistan's North Waziristan region, killing 12 people, Pakistani security officials said.

"Seven missiles were fired, targeting several houses in the Ambarshaga area in North Waziristan," the senior security official said.

The United States has launched 48 drone strikes this year, killing more than 400 people, according to a Reuters tally. There were 32 such strikes last year which killed about 240 people.

Agencies

Last Mod: 17 Aralık 2009, 16:44
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