Asia

Pakistan army chief dismisses coup rumours

Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani - file photo
Image caption Gen Kayani's statement stressed that the army supported democratic rule

Pakistan's army chief has dismissed reports that the military is planning to overthrow the civilian government.

Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani's comments come a day after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani spoke of a conspiracy, in a clear reference to the army.

Tensions are high in the wake of a leaked memo that allegedly asked for US help to prevent a military coup.

President Asif Ali Zardari, who is now back after medical treatment in Dubai, denies any role in the memo.

Gen Kayani "strongly dispelled the speculation of any military takeover", a military statement issued on Friday said.

The rumours were "misleading and being used as a bogey to divert the focus from the real issues".

The general, who was addressing troops near the Afghan border, "reiterated that (the) Pakistan Army has and will continue to support the democratic process in the country", the statement went on.

The country's top judge also moved on Friday to play down worries over a possible coup.

"There is no question of a takeover. Gone are the days when people used to get validation for unconstitutional steps from the courts," said Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry.

Scandal pressure

Tensions are high between the civilian government, which has ruled since elections in February 2008, and Pakistan's powerful military and intelligence services, after US forces killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in May.

The army was not told about the raid in advance.

Image caption Mr Gilani: Nobody is above the law

On Thursday, Mr Gilani voiced unprecedented criticism of the army.

After speaking of conspiracies to overthrow the elected government, Mr Gilani said: "There can't be a state within the state. They have to be answerable to this parliament."

The latest developments come amid a scandal dubbed "memogate" that has forced the resignation of the Pakistani ambassador to the US and piled pressure on President Zardari and the civilian authorities.

Mr Zardari had no intention of leaving the country because of the memo scandal, officials from the governing party told Reuters news agency on Friday.

The president recently returned from Dubai where he had treatment for a heart condition.

"He is performing his usual work. He is here in Pakistan and he has come to stay," spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Reuters news agency.

Pakistan's Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Chaudhry, has opened a hearing into the memo scandal and demanded a reply from Mr Zardari.

Some analysts have speculated that the "memogate" affair is a conspiracy by the army to embarrass the government.

The military is the strongest institution in Pakistan and has staged three coups.

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