Pakistan National Assembly opens; Musharraf faces threat from rivals

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Islamabad, Mar 17 (UNI) Pakistan's National Assembly opened today for its crucial inaugural session which may see an open confrontation between President Pervez Musharraf and his opponents, amid serious concerns over the security situation in the wake of a series of bomb blasts across the country.

Outgoing Assembly Speaker Chowdhury Amir Hussain administered the oath to the new members, who got elected in the February 18 polls.

The election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker would be held on Wednesday through secret ballot. No date has been set for the election of the Leader of the House.

Ahead of the inaugural session, leaders of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the Awami National Party (ANP) held a joint meeting to discuss the strategy they would adopt during the session.

After the meeting, former Prime Minister and PML(N) chief Nawaz Sharif told reporters that the agenda of the three parties was very clear: democracy has to be strengthened and dictatorship must end.

PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari said the meeting of the three parties ahead of the Assembly session was the first step towards democracy.

The world must strengthen democracy in Pakistan.

The PPP Co-Chairperson Zardari said the world has witnessed the end of dictatorial rule in Pakistan. ''The days of dictatorship are over and we, with the support and help of the people of Pakistan, have ensured that the democracy is put on track. For this very act, we are thankful to the masses who voted us into power,'' he said.

Mr Makhtoom Amin Fahim, the PPP leader who was until recently considered the front-runner for the Prime Ministership, said no decision had been taken by the three parties on their nominee for the Premiership.

Mr Fahim dismissed rumours that he was making any forward bloc in Sindh Assembly and said the party would remain united as there was no rift between the leadership. ''I am not forming any forward bloc, all such reports are baseless,'' he said.

Chowdhury Ahmed Mukhtar of the PPP said it was for all parties to sit together to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.

The seats in the House have been allotted on the basis of Urdu alphabets that are later to be segregated on party basis.

The February election saw the PPP emerging with the most seats in the 342-member National Assembly, but not enough to rule alone. The PML(N) came second, dealing a crushing defeat to the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League.


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