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Pakistan's military rejects U.S. findings

It criticized a report over troops' deaths. Also, the army chief denied a coup plot.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's military on Friday ratcheted up tensions with the United States, rejecting the findings of a Pentagon investigation into the friendly-fire deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The rejection came amid increasing political instability in Pakistan over allegations that President Asif Ali Zardari had in May sought American assistance to avert a military takeover.

The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, denied Friday that he was plotting a coup and pledged continued support to Pakistan's four-year-old democracy. He spoke during a tour of forward military posts in the Mohmand tribal region, near the border with eastern Afghanistan, where the Pakistani troops died Nov. 26 after coming under fire from U.S. forces.

Kayani's tour also may have been a deliberate snub to the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, who had offered to fly into Islamabad to brief his Pakistani counterparts about the Pentagon report.

Pakistan had demanded a personal apology from President Obama for the soldiers' deaths. None was forthcoming after the U.S. investigation attributed the incident to poor coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces positioned on either side of Afghanistan's eastern border.

It also found that Pakistani troops fired first at U.S. troops conducting an operation just inside Afghan territory, mistaking them for insurgents.

A spokesman for the Pakistani military, Gen. Athar Abbas, rejected the Pentagon report, saying Pakistani troops opened fire only after coming under attack by American helicopter gunships.

Pakistan's military had declined a U.S. invitation to join the inquiry, alleging the deadly exchange of fire was intentional. The Pentagon found there was "no intentional effort" to target the Pakistani army units.

In Mohmand, Kayani sneered at a U.S. offer of compensation for the soldier's families, telling troops, "No one can put a price tag on the blood of the martyrs of the nation."

Kayani also dismissed speculation that he was plotting to overthrow the government.

Fears of a coup mounted Thursday after Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani said "conspiracies are being hatched" to overthrow his government and dismiss parliament.

Gilani did not identify the Pakistani army chief and Ahmed Pasha, director of the military's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, as the conspirators but insinuated as much by reminding "certain individuals" that they worked for the government and were answerable to parliament.

His remarks followed discreet consultations with his coalition partners and the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif.

Sharif's aides joined a meeting Thursday of parliamentary party leaders, who vowed to uphold parliament's sovereignty.

In a direct retort, Kayani said: "The army is fully cognizant of its obligations and responsibilities under the constitution." He said speculation about a coup was being used as a "bogey to divert the focus from the real issues" of national security.