ISLAMABAD Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has berated his coalition for leaving him isolated in a crisis that threatens to destabilize a country on the front line of a global anti-terrorism campaign, a newspaper reported.
Musharraf, who is also army chief, is facing the biggest challenge to his authority since he took power in 1999, over a crisis he precipitated by suspending Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9.
But his government backed off new powers to shut down broadcasters following widespread criticism of media curbs introduced since protests erupted over Chaudhry's suspension on misconduct accusations.
Opposition parties calling for democracy and supporting Chaudhry held peaceful protests in several cities despite the detention this week of hundreds of activists by authorities trying to thwart demonstrations.
Musharraf will address the nation soon, government officials said, when he is expected to set out his position on the crisis. No date has been set for the address but it would not be on Thursday, they said.
The News newspaper said a frustrated Musharraf told ruling party members of parliament they were failing to come to his support.
"I bluntly say you always leave me alone in times of trial and tribulation," the paper, citing unidentified participants at the Wednesday meeting, quoted Musharraf as saying.
"I see the party nowhere. You people are not mobilized," he was quoted as telling ruling Pakistan Muslim League members.
But while the crisis is seen to have weakened Musharraf's political position in the run-up to elections, the crucial support of the army and the United States has been firm.
The United States would view with alarm instability in a nuclear-armed country where al Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding out. Pakistan's help is also seen as crucial to success fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
The News said Musharraf warned that Pakistan would find it harder to halt the spread of hardline Islamist influence, known as "Talibanisation", without his leadership.
A senior government official said the News report was exaggerated but the president had urged action.
"You should go to your constituencies and effectively defend and project government policies ... in the face of growing opposition propaganda," the official cited Musharraf as saying.
WARNING ON EMERGENCY
The crisis has led to speculation Musharraf might declare a state of emergency but he has repeatedly ruled that out and said elections due at the end of the year would be on time.
The International Crisis Group think tank said the United States should put pressure on Pakistan to ensure emergency rule is not imposed and to effect a peaceful transition to democracy.
"Any attempt to impose emergency rule and suspend fundamental rights would be pouring petrol on the fire," said the group's South Asia director, Samina Ahmed.
Musharraf wants to get re-elected by sitting national and provincial assemblies, perhaps in September, before they are dissolved for general elections.
But he is believed to be reluctant to give up his post of army chief as he is constitutionally required to.
Analysts believe Musharraf's main motive for seeking to replace Chaudhry stemmed from doubts the Supreme Court judge would be supportive in the event of constitutional challenges to the president's re-election plans.
Opposition supporters chanting "Go Musharraf Go" rallied in Lahore and other towns but there were no reports of trouble. About 40 people were killed in clashes in Karachi last month.
Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani said the government had suspended an ordinance introduced this week giving authorities more powers to shut operators, pending a review.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch had said the ordinance "muzzled" broadcasters.
(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider)