ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan's (search) acting president signed legislation Tuesday that will allow Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) to remain as both head of the state and army chief beyond Dec. 31, a senior Cabinet Minister said.
Parliament passed the legislation earlier this month. Mohammed Mian Soomro (search), chairman of the Senate, signed it as acting president, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said by telephone from London.
Under the constitution, legislation passed by Parliament must be signed by the president within 30 days. Since Musharraf is on a visit to Latin America, Soomro signed the bill to "meet a constitutional requirement," Ahmed said.
He did not specify how long that Musharraf will hold the military post. His term as president expires in 2007.
The move came two days after a coalition of six radical Islamic groups — who jointly hold 77 seats in the 342-seat National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament — held a large rally to kick off a campaign to force Musharraf into honoring a promise to step down as army chief. They gave him until Dec. 19 to announce that he will retire after Dec. 31.
A coalition spokesman, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, said the opposition "won't accept" the legislation.
"We will go to the court of the people against it," he said, while refusing to say whether they had any intention to challenge matter in the courts.
But Information Minister Ahmed said the time has come for the opposition to "stop the politics of confrontation" and "realize that we need political stability."
Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. He held parliamentary elections in 2002 but changed the constitution first, giving himself sweeping powers, including the right to sack the prime minister, Cabinet and Parliament.
Last year, the coalition struck a deal with Musharraf, agreeing to accept him as president until 2007 in return for his pledge to quit his army post before Dec. 31.
However, Pakistan's ruling Muslim League-Q party passed a bill this month, clearing the way for the general to remain president and army chief until 2007.
The legislation came weeks after Musharraf said he would go back on his promise, claiming most people want him to keep his uniform to maintain stability as he fights terrorism. He also says Pakistan needs the military's firm guiding hand to build a democratic state.