PAKISTAN CLOSE TO COUP! – as bomb blasts rock Baghdad

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PAKISTAN’S Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that conspirators are plotting to bring down his government.

He has also accused the military of being a state within a state and that it has to be accountable to parliament.

However, his relations with the US military have already forced the resignation of the Pakistani ambassador to the US and threatens his rule.

A leaked memo allegedly asked for US help to prevent a military takeover.

Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has recently returned to the country after seeking medical treatment in Dubai.

The 56-year-old denies any role in the memo and denies that he was abroad seeking to organise US intervention against the army chiefs.

His illness and the scandal surrounding the memo have led to speculation that he might be forced out of office by a military coup.

Pakistan’s supreme court has opened a hearing into the memo and demanded a reply from the president.

Tensions are high between the civilian government, which has ruled since elections in February 2008, and Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services.

US forces killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in May. The army was not told about the raid in advance although the PM is thought to have had advance notice.

Gilani also referred to the controversy over the late al-Qaeda leader, querying how he had managed to get into Pakistan and live there for six years apparently undetected.

A strike by Nato forces on a Pakistani border post in November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. This has caused outrage in Pakistan and made it more difficult for the civilian government to defend its policy of co-operation with the United States.

Yesterday the US military sought to explain away this attack as just a series of unintended errors.

This is not accepted by the Pakistani armed forces.

• A series of apparently co-ordinated bombings in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, yesterday morning killed at least 57 people, and injured 176, just days after the US forces quit the country.

The attacks largely coincided with the morning rush hour, and security forces cordoned off bomb sites.

Later, an unnamed Interior Ministry official said 63 people were killed and 185 wounded.

The attacks came as Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to replace ministers belonging to a Sunni bloc in his coalition and ordered the arrest of the Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi.

Maliki promised a fair trial for al-Hashemi, who has fled to the autonomous Kurdish region after learning that he was wanted for allegedly plotting assassinations during the insurgency.

Maliki has also asked that parliament sack another rival, his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq, who likened Maliki to Saddam Hussein.

Iraqis suggest that they are being encircled by Iranian, Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi predators who are keen to divide Iraq up amongst themselves.