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Pakistan prez visits Dubai as crisis deepens

ISLAMABAD -- President Asif Ali Zardari left Pakistan yesterday for what was described as a one-day private visit to Dubai, officials said, during a deepening crisis between the government and the powerful military.

Early last month, Zardari traveled to Dubai for medical treatment, triggering rumors that he was either being pushed out by the army or was fleeing a potential coup.

He returned after a few weeks, but tensions have continued to soar in the country, with critics gleefully predicting the government's imminent downfall.

The officials said the trip was not connected to the current crisis. They said the president would attend a wedding in Dubai and would be back in Pakistan this morning. They didn't give their names because they were not authorized to release the information.

As Zardari left, military chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani met with top commanders, media reports and a military officer said, fueling speculation about the army's next move in the political crisis.

Most analysts say Kayani doesn't want a coup because the army is fighting Islamist militants, the country is facing economic ruin, and seizing power would trigger domestic and international criticism. But they say the generals may be happy to allow a Supreme Court hostile to the government to dismiss Zardari if it can find a "constitutional" way to do so.

On Wednesday, the prime minister fired the defense secretary in a rare public display of assertiveness by the civilian government against the army, as the fallout widened from a scandal centered on a memo written to Washington asking for its help in reining in the generals.

The court, regarded as an ally of the army, is investigating that affair and a second one linked to past corruption cases against the president. Both could potentially be used as a pretext to oust the current civilian leadership, which is showing no signs of bending.The crisis is consuming the attentions of the ruling elite in a country that is struggling to overcome economic turmoil and a bloody al-Qaida fueled insurgency.

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