Pakistani lawyers in new effort to block Musharraf

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ISLAMABAD, Oct 2 (Reuters) Pakistani opposition lawyers made a last-ditch effort today to block President Pervez Musharraf's re-election, telling the Supreme Court as army chief he should be ineligible and Saturday's vote should be postponed.

US ally General Musharraf, leader of the only nuclear-armed Islamic nation, is expected to win re-election in a vote by the two houses of parliament and four provincial assemblies.

Although his popularity has slumped, army chief Musharraf's ruling coalition holds a majority in parliament, which is due to be dissolved next month before a general election due by mid-January.

Once re-elected Musharraf has vowed to quit as army chief and become a civilian leader.

Unable to stop Musharraf through the ballot, an opposition alliance grouping Islamists with the party of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif aims to spoil the credibility of the vote by resigning en masse from the National Assembly today.

Meanwhile, opposition lawyers are mounting a final legal challenge, filing a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a bar on Musharraf running for re-election as army chief and the postponement of the vote.

''The COAS (chief of army staff) should be declared ineligible and until a decision on the petition, the election should be stayed,'' lawyer Ashtar Ausaf Ali told reporters, shortly before he filed the petition.

Ali is a lawyer for election candidate Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former Supreme Court judge who resigned in 2000 rather than swear allegiance to Musharraf.

It was not clear when the court, which dismissed similar challenges last week, would take up the petition.

The other main candidate is Makhdoom Amin Faheem, from the Pakistan People's Party of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf has been holding talks with liberal-minded Bhutto for a post-election power-sharing deal to shore up his position, but no final agreement has been reached.

Bhutto, who has consistently opposed Musharraf's election while army chief, has threatened that her members might also resign from the assemblies unless her demands for democratic reforms were met.

A walk-out by Bhutto's members, along with the opposition alliance, would seriously detract from the vote's credibility but it would not derail it.

Bhutto has lived in exile since 1999 rather than face corruption charges but has vowed to return on Oct. 18.

REUTERS SZ HS1157

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