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Thu 14 Feb 2008 11:45 AM

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Musharraf 'obstacle' to Pakistan stability

President's popularity nosedives ahead of elections, majority think re-election not valid, poll says.

President Pervez Musharraf's popularity has nosedived ahead of elections next week, with a majority of Pakistanis viewing him as an "obstacle" to the stability of the country, a survey said Thursday.

The poll carried out by GlobeScan for the BBC Urdu Service also said that half of respondents thought Musharraf's re-election as president last November was not valid.

The survey is the latest in a series ahead of Monday's parliamentary elections that show plummeting support for Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999.

"The findings are gloomy news for President Musharraf and his allies," it said.

Pollsters surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,476 Pakistani adults from 27 to 28 January, one month after opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack.

According to the survey 64% said stability would improve if Musharraf resigned and 49% say his re-election was invalid.

Musharraf's second five-year term as president was approved in November by a Supreme Court shorn of all critical judges after Musharraf sacked the outspoken chief justice and other colleagues under a state of emergency.

Musharraf also had a low approval rating - only 15%, with 72% saying they disapproved of the job he was doing.

Three-quarters of people said they would like him to resign.

Meanwhile, 44% said they were confident elections will be free and fair, and 51% are optimistic conditions will improve over the next six months.

Bhutto's murder created a wave of sympathy for the opposition and also triggered a dispute over the cause of her death, the survey said.

Although a recent investigation by British detectives supported the government's version of events surrounding her assassination, suspicions and conspiracy theories have persisted.

When the team carrying out the BBC-commissioned poll asked people who they thought was responsible for her death, almost 40% said they thought the Pakistani security agencies or people linked to them.

The poll was conducted before the release of the British findings.

Polls by two US groups with links to the Republican party published earlier this week also showed that Musharraf's popularity had plummeted, with Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party surging into a lead with those questioned.

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