Page last updated at 20:22 GMT, Monday, 18 August 2008 21:22 UK

Pakistan's Musharraf steps down

President Pervez Musharraf announces his resignation

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, facing impeachment on charges drawn up by the governing coalition, has announced that he is resigning.

He went on national TV to say that while he was confident the charges would not stand, this was not the time for more confrontation.

He is accused of violation of the constitution and gross misconduct.

The Speaker of the Pakistani Senate, Muhammad Mian Sumroo, automatically took over as caretaker president.

Mr Musharraf has been a key ally of the US in its "war on terror" since he took power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

Reaction in Pakistan is overwhelmingly one of relief that a bruising and lengthy impeachment battle has been avoided, the BBC's Mark Dummett reports from Islamabad.

I leave myself in the hands of the people
Pervez Musharraf

The key issue now is whether the ruling coalition, which had pushed for Mr Musharraf's exit since winning the February election, can stay united and deliver on its promises, he says.

It will have to agree on a new president, then persuade allies like the US and UK, and its neighbours like India and Afghanistan, that it will be committed to defeating militancy and terrorism, our correspondent adds.

International reaction to Mr Musharraf's resignation was mixed, with the US hailing him as strong ally against terrorism but Afghanistan welcoming his departure as a boost to democracy.

'No bravado'

Looking calm and dressed soberly in a dark suit and tie, Mr Musharraf said he had decided to resign after consulting his allies and advisers.

Pakistani lawyers dance in jubilation in Karachi

In a defiant speech, he said he had believed it was his destiny to save Pakistan, helped by God, and that he had prevented it from being declared a terrorist state.

In a clear reference to his political opponents, he accused unnamed elements of putting themselves above the country and seeking to betray it.

"Not a single charge can be proved against me," he said, while conceding he had made mistakes.

An impeachment process would have plunged the country into more uncertainty, he said, and it was no time for "individual bravado".

The outgoing president listed social, economic and infrastructural improvements made during his rule.

"I leave myself in the hands of the people," he concluded.

After making his speech, the former military leader inspected a guard of honour outside his white palace in Islamabad, stepped into a black limousine and left the presidency.

Cheering crowds poured into the streets of Pakistan's big cities to celebrate Mr Musharraf's departure. In Karachi, lawyers danced in jubilation.

'A friend to the US'

The caretaker president is a member of the pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League.

President Pervez Musharraf inspects a guard of honour before leaving his palace on  18 August
12 Oct 1999: Deposes PM Nawaz Sharif in coup
20 June 2001: Names himself president while remaining head of the army
12 Jan 2002: Declares war against extremism in Pakistan
14 December 2003: Survives first of several assassination plots
3 November 2007: Declares state of emergency before judiciary can rule on his re-election as president
28 November 2007: Steps down as army chief to become a civilian president
18 August 2008: Announces he will resign as president

The eventual new president must be elected by both houses of Pakistan's parliament and the four provincial assemblies.

Reacting to news of the resignation, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised him as a "friend to the United States and one of the world's most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism".

She said the US would work with Pakistan's new leaders, pressing on them the need to stem "the growth of extremism".

The UK government wished Mr Musharraf well but stressed that relations did not depend on one individual.

India said it had no comment to make on the resignation since it was an internal matter for Pakistan.

Neighbouring Afghanistan, whose own president, Hamid Karzai, had a very fraught relationship with Mr Musharraf, hoped his departure would boost democracy in both countries.

Mounting pressure

Mr Musharraf's resignation followed more than a year of turbulence.

This is shame for Pakistan; Musharraf was cleaning the 49 years old mess.
Salman lalwani, Houston, USA

The unrest began last March when he confronted the judiciary, suspending the chief justice. After widespread strikes and protests, his decision was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Mr Musharraf won the presidential election in October - but the Supreme Court refused to confirm the result.

In November, he declared a state of emergency, citing increasing attacks by militants but eventually stood down as head of the army, giving up his main power base.

The parliamentary election this February, handed a clear victory to the two main opposition parties.

The coalition struck a deal to impeach the president earlier this month and finalised their charges against him hours before he stepped down.

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