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Musharraf faces new pressure from rival

Amid mixed signals, an ex-premier said the coalition had agreed to oust the "traitor."

LAHORE, Pakistan - A Pakistani leader stepped up the pressure on President Pervez Musharraf yesterday, branding him a "traitor" and contending that the ruling coalition had agreed to oust him.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leads the second-largest party in a coalition that took power two months ago after routing Musharraf's supporters in elections.

In a speech yesterday to fist-pumping supporters, Sharif said that Asif Ali Zardari, whose party leads the coalition, agreed in talks held Tuesday to remove Musharraf.

But a spokeswoman for Zardari said that although his party might consider impeaching Musharraf, its priority was to cut back the president's powers.

Sharif addressed a gathering of his Pakistan Muslim League-N party to mark the 10th anniversary of the atomic-bomb test that made Pakistan the world's only Islamic nuclear power.

Sharif was prime minister at the time. His government was later ousted by then-army chief Musharraf in a 1999 coup, and the two remain bitter political enemies.

In his speech, Sharif accused Musharraf of having "destroyed" the nation during his eight-year dominance of Pakistan's politics.

"A high-treason case should be registered against him and he should be given the punishment of a traitor," Sharif said to cheers in a conference hall in Lahore. "There is no need to give him a safe exit."

He maintained that Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, "agreed to remove" Musharraf during a meeting of the two coalition leaders Tuesday.

Sharif did not elaborate.

Farzana Raja, a spokesman for Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party, said there was "no specific talk" of impeaching Musharraf in Tuesday's discussions.

She said her party wanted to avoid a confrontation with the presidency and was focused on a package of constitutional amendments that would strip him of the power to dissolve parliament and appoint top officials.

However, she said her party could "think about" impeaching him if its allies were united in seeking such a move.

Musharraf's spokesman denied speculation that the president was considering quitting - talk that sent Pakistan's stock market lower yesterday.