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Zardari retreats on amnesty bill

Pakistani protesters take street to oppose the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which gives protection to President Asif Ali Zardari and other law makers from corruption cases, in Multan, Pakistan on Monday, Nov. 2, 2009
Critics of the president say the amnesty is unacceptable

Pakistan's ruling party has retreated from plans to win parliamentary support for a controversial law granting senior politicians amnesty from graft charges.

The move by President Asif Zardari was opposed by coalition allies and others.

Ex-president Pervez Musharraf brought in the 2007 ordinance by decree - the Supreme Court said MPs had to back it.

The amnesty was aimed at a possible power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto. She returned to Pakistan from abroad but was assassinated soon after.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says the main beneficiary of the amnesty from graft charges has been Mr Zardari.

He spent years in jail after being indicted for corruption, charges he says were politically motivated.

After his wife's death, Mr Zardari won elections in 2008 that led to him replacing Mr Musharraf as president.

'Legitimisation of corruption'

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) wanted parliament's approval for several controversial constitutional amendments made by Mr Musharraf.

These included the highly unpopular National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) granting blanket amnesty to politicians charged with corruption.

Our correspondent says the PPP's plans were postponed after an outcry from within the ruling coalition and opposition parties.

They called the NRO a "legitimisation of corruption".

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said President Zardari had chaired the meeting at which it had been "agreed that the amendments would not be introduced in parliament".

Instead, Mr Babar said, a thorough debate on the matter would be conducted with all major political parties.

The PPP climbdown followed a heated debate culminating in a walkout by major opposition parties from parliament on Monday.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N has led the protests.

Mr Sharif recently held a widely televised press conference in which he strongly opposed all amendments by Mr Musharraf.

He also asked Mr Zardari to step down in the "larger national interest" and face the courts.

Mr Sharif has also said that his party would not allow such "anti-democratic measures" to be introduced.

He says if the order was not abandoned, the PML-N would be forced to campaign against the government.



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