Musharraf retires as Pak army chief

President Pervez Musharraf stepped down Wednesday from his powerful post as Pakistan's military commander, a day before he was to be sworn in as a civilian president in a long-delayed pledge not to hold both jobs.

Musharraf retires as Pak army chief
During a change of command, Musharraf relinquished his post by handing over his ceremonial baton to his hand-picked successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

"(You) are the saviors of Pakistan," Musharraf said in an emotional final speech to the troops. He appeared to be blinking back tears as the guard of honor performed a final march-by.

Musharraf's retirement from the military has been a key opposition demand and the move may help defuse a possible boycott of parliamentary elections in January by parties opposed to his rule. Since seizing power in a coup in 1999, Musharraf has served as president while retaining his post as head of the armed forces.

Musharraf had promised to give up his army role at the end of 2004. But he reneged on that pledge, saying the country still needed strong leadership in the face of "extremism".

He was re-elected by parliament in October, but his confirmation was held up by the Supreme Court following complaints that a military man could not constitutionally serve as an elected head-of-state.

Musharraf reacted by proclaiming a state of emergency on Nov. 3, sacking the chief justice and other independent judges and replacing them with his appointees. The reconstituted top court then duly approved his election.

On Wednesday, hundreds of senior officers, politicians and other civilians watched from the stands as an unsmiling Musharraf, wearing a phalanx of medals and a green sash across his uniform, reviewed the ranks to the strains of "Auld Lang Syne."

"I'm proud of this army and I was lucky to have commanded the world's best army," Musharraf said. "I will no longer command ... but my heart and my mind will always be with you."

Opponents on Tuesday welcomed Musharraf's belated conversion to civilian rule and appeared to pull back from a threat to boycott the elections.

Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup, said Musharraf's conversion to a civilian president would make "a lot of difference," and he would only refuse to participate in the vote if all opposition parties agreed to do so as well.

But Sharif also kept up his rhetoric against the general, insisting that Musharraf lift the state of emergency.

Musharraf has faced increasingly adamant calls from critics at home and abroad to lift the emergency and make good on a long-standing pledge to restore civilian rule. To calm the turmoil, he has released thousands of opponents and let all but one of Pakistan's independent news channels go back on the air.

Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Kasım 2007, 10:12
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