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Pakistani president has resigned. Pervez Musharraf made his announcement just hours ago in a live TV address to the nation. Musharraf was facing impeachment, something he had vowed to fight. As it became clear he had virtually no support, Pakistan's longtime leader chose to bow out to some small degree on his own terms.
NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Islamabad.
PHILIP REEVES: A somber-looking Musharraf spoke for an hour before he finally made the announcement Pakistanis have been waiting for for days.
President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): ...my resignation as speaker of the national assembly today...
REEVES: Musharraf's resignation came as the ruling coalition government was moving to impeach him. His allies were fast fading away. He was under pressure at home and abroad to quit.
Pres. MUSHARRAF: No charges can stand against me.
REEVES: Musharraf said he wasn't frightened of impeachment but he was leaving to avoid a confrontation damaging to the nation and the office of presidency. Much of Musharraf's address was a defense of his record in office. But he acknowledged making mistakes and asked Pakistan's forgiveness. It's not clear if Musharraf will now stay in Pakistan or go into exile. He's been pressing for immunity from prosecution.
This was the reaction as the news broke outside a base of the Pakistan Peoples Party in Islamabad. The party's the leader of the coalition.
(Soundbite of cheering)
REEVES: As they celebrated Musharraf's departure, party workers also honored their former leader, Benazir Bhutto, assassinated late last year.
Musharraf's departure ends nearly nine turbulent years in office.
Mr. TALAT MASOOD (Political Analyst): The real weaknesses of his as I see it is that he has never realized the importance of institutions.
REEVES: That's political analyst Talat Masood.
Mr. MASOOD: He just leaves the old institutions of Pakistan so weak, including the political ones who are to now run the affairs of the country.
REEVES: Musharraf seized power with a coup in 1999, after the then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to sack him as army chief. His early days were rocky, as he sought to solidify his position with an election and referendum which observers said were rigged.
After 9/11, Musharraf became a firm ally of the United States. The U.S. channeled billions of dollars to Pakistan as a reward for his support for the war on terror. For a while Musharraf seemed secure. The economy grew. Relations with India, the big rival next door, improved. Pakistan's opposition parties were in disarray and Musharraf's army was able to wield increasing influence over business and government.
Then, says political commentator Rasul Bakhsh Rais, Musharraf made a critical error.
Mr. RASUL BAKHSH RAIS (Political Commentator): His undoing was his own action of removing chief justice of Pakistan in March 9, 2007. Onward his standing was on shaky grounds and the power began to slip away from him.
REEVES: Musharraf sought to oust the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, because he feared Pakistan's Supreme Court would raise legal barriers to his reelection as president. The move backfired. Lawyers and civil activists took to the streets demanding an independent judiciary. One crisis followed another. There was public fury after more than 100 people were killed when Pakistani forces stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad after it had been taken over by Islamist extremists.
Then in November, Musharraf declared a state of emergency - a six-week crackdown in which thousands of political activists were detained, the media was gagged, and the general purged Pakistan's supreme court of his enemies.
Rais believes Musharraf was the author of his own undoing.
Mr. RAIS: Musharraf was a hardheaded and impulsive political leader from day one to the end. But this was very unfortunate that he always put his personal ambitions ahead of the interests of the people of Pakistan.
REEVES: On the streets today few will mourn Musharraf's departure. This man is a banker who would only give his name as Ahmed(ph).
Mr. AHMED (Banker): For the last almost eight years he's been ruling the country and it's been no good to it. So I think it's better that he has resigned and it's over now.
REEVES: Many Pakistanis felt Musharraf was far too close to the U.S., and many are simply sick of politics. They'll be hoping their new civilian government can now get on with the job and do something about Pakistan's unraveling economy and the threat of Islamist militancy.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.
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