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Tuesday, 07 April 2020

Pakistan president hits out at 'conspiracies'

As a political rift grows between Pakistan's government and army, the country observes the fourth anniversary of slain premier Benazir Bhutto

AFP , Tuesday 27 Dec 2011
Benazir Bhutto
Supporters of Pakistan People's Party hold an image of Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto during a candlelight vigil to commemorate her death anniversary in Lahore. (Photo: Reuters)
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Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said Tuesday the best way to pay tribute to slain premier Benazir Bhutto on the fourth anniversary of her death was to foil anti-democracy "conspiracies".

Tensions between the army and government appear to have soared in recent days over a secret memo that allegedly sought US intervention to prevent a feared coup.

"Today we pay tributes to her. The best way to do it is to defend and protect democracy and democratic institutions in the country and foil all conspiracies against it," the beleaguered Zardari said in a statement.

Bhutto, twice-elected prime minister and wife of Zardari, was killed in a gun and suicide attack on December 27, 2007 in the garrison city of Rawalpindi after addressing an election rally.

"Let us on this day re-dedicate ourselves to the democratic mission of Shaheed (martyr) Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto whose life was dedicated to fighting dictatorship and those seeking to defame and dismantle democratic institutions," the president said.

"I therefore urge all the democratic forces and the patriotic Pakistanis to foil all conspiracies against democracy and democratic institutions," he said.

Pakistan is rife with conspiracy theories and Zardari also termed the assassination of Bhutto a conspiracy.

"Her assassination was a conspiracy to rid the world of its best weapon to combat international violent extremism. It was a conspiracy to rob Pakistan of its best hope to establish a fully functional democracy," he said.

Zardari's remarks came despite denials of a military coup from the powerful army chief and also from the Supreme Court top judge as he examined calls from the army and the opposition to probe the memo scandal last week.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Saturday welcomed a statement by army chief General Ashfaq Kayani ruling out a military takeover.

And on Monday, Gilani had to give assurances that there was no move on the cards to remove Kayani or intelligence head Ahmad Shuja Pasha, describing the rumours as "ridiculous".

"This utterly wrong impression is being created by some opportunists... Had this been the case, I would not have pleaded them to take extension in service," he told a news conference.

Gilani said the generals did not ask for extensions of their tenure after retirement last year, but he wanted them to continue as the country was fighting a war against terrorism.

The military has carried out three coups in Pakistan and is considered the chief arbiter of power in the country of 174 million.

Last week Gilani delivered an unprecedented tirade against the military and accused "conspirators" -- whom he did not name -- of plotting to bring down his government.

But Kayani dismissed those concerns, saying that the army "will continue to support the democratic process in the country".

The leaked memo allegedly sought US intervention to prevent a feared military coup in exchange for overhauling Pakistan's security leadership after US troops killed Osama bin Laden near the Pakistani capital on May 2.

The existence of the document came to light when American-Pakistani businessman Mansoor Ijaz wrote in the Financial Times that Zardari feared the military might overthrow his government.

Ijaz accused Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington and a close Zardari aide, of crafting the memo with the president's support.

Haqqani flatly denies the accusations but was forced to resign as ambassador last month.

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