World in brief: Musharraf willing to quit army post
President Pervez Musharraf will quit as army chief and end eight years of military rule only after he wins election as president, a government lawyer said Tuesday.
The statement by government lawyer Sharifuddin Pirzada in court is the first official signal that Musharraf is willing to take off his army uniform, a growing demand from opposition parties and a public tired of the army-led government. The decision would hold considerable political peril for Musharraf, as most analysts say he will lose much of his power if he no longer controls the army.
Presidential elections have not been scheduled but legally need to be held in parliament before Oct. 15, a month before Musharraf’s current presidential term expires.
“If he’s elected, he could continue as president for five years,” said Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, an independent think tank. “But he will be a weak president, because he will not have the loyalty of the army.”
Opposition political parties said Musharraf’s plan violates the constitution and threatened to resign from parliament in protest.
Palestinian economy weakens
The Palestinian economy has become weaker and more dependent on foreign aid as the private sector has atrophied because of political violence and Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods and people, the World Bank said Tuesday.
The report, which focuses on trends during the last two years, found conditions especially severe in the Gaza Strip, where unemployment rose to almost 35 percent last year and more than a third of residents were living in severe poverty.
The bank said overall gross domestic product, a key gauge of economic health, had dropped by nearly a third since 1999, the year before the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising. Per-capita GDP was $1,129 last year.
The report said foreign assistance to the Palestinians reached a record $1.4 billion in 2006, but that went mostly for day-to-day government costs, such as salaries, rather than development projects that can yield long-term economic benefit. The number of Palestinian public employees grew to 168,000, a 60 percent jump from seven years earlier.
The bank predicted the Palestinian Authority would need $1.6 billion yearly to cover its mounting budget deficit.