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Musharraf Says He'll Remain Army Chief

Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) on Thursday accused his political opponents of "threatening" democracy as he explained to the nation his decision to renege on a promise to stand down as army chief by the end of 2004.

In an uncompromising televised address, Musharraf said he would retain the post of army chief of staff — the source of most of his power — as well as that of president, saying it had been mandated by both houses of Parliament.

"I have decided to retain both offices. In my view, any change in internal or external policies can be extremely dangerous for Pakistan," he said.

He accused the opposition of "threatening the democratic process" by trying to make political capital from the issue.

Musharraf stressed the need for continuity in pursuing peace with archrival India and fighting terrorism — which has angered hardliners in Pakistan (search).

Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, took power in a bloodless coup against an elected government in October 1999. He held parliamentary elections in 2002 but remains the dominant force in Pakistan.

In December 2003, Musharraf agreed in a deal with a hardline Islamic opposition coalition to stand down as army chief by Dec. 31, 2004, in return for its support in a Parliamentary vote to give him sweeping, constitutional powers to dismiss Parliament and the prime minister.

He won the vote, but Musharraf later accused that coalition, the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal or United Action Forum, of breaking the deal to give him political support.

The president said earlier this month he would stay on as army chief, having secured a Parliamentary vote in November to support the move.

In his address, Musharraf said the constitution allowed him to retain both offices until 2007, when fresh Parliamentary elections are due.

"I shall never violate the constitution," he said. "The National Assembly and the Senate have passed that bill that I shall keep the two offices. This is the voice of the majority and the minority should accept the voice of the majority."

Opposition parties have accused Musharraf of acting like a dictator. The MMA has organized some major protest rallies, but with little impact on the wider public.

Musharraf has faced little criticism from the West for his backtracking on democracy in a country which has spent nearly half its history under military rule. Musharraf is viewed by the United States, former colonial power Britain and other nations as a valuable ally in combating Islamic extremism and fighting Al Qaeda (search).