Pakistani leader warns of conspiracy amid scandal

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's president urged his countrymen to guard against what he called anti-democratic conspiracies Tuesday, in apparent reference to strains between his government and the army over a secret memo sent to Washington earlier this year.

President Asif Ali Zardari said that doing so would be a fitting tribute to his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, on the anniversary of her assassination by suspected militants on Dec. 27, 2007. He said her death was a conspiracy against Pakistani democracy.

"I therefore urge all the democratic forces and the patriotic Pakistanis to foil all conspiracies against democracy and democratic institutions," said Zardari in a statement sent to reporters.

The current crisis involves a memo allegedly sent by Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, to a senior American military official asking for help to stop a supposed army coup in the wake of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

The operation angered Pakistani officials because they weren't told about it beforehand and humiliated the army because it was not able to stop the nighttime raid near Pakistan's equivalent of West Point.

Haqqani has denied any connection to the memo but resigned in the wake of the scandal. Zardari has also denied claims that the memo was sent with his support.

The memo outraged the army, which denied it ever planned to stage a coup and bristled at the attempt to go around its back to Washington.

There is long-standing tension between the civilian government and the army because the force has staged a series of coups and ruled the country for much of its 64-year history.

Friction increased over the past week as the Supreme Court opened a hearing into the memo scandal, prompting Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to warn that there was a conspiracy under way to oust the government.

The government has opposed the court's investigation, claiming it wasn't needed since parliament was already looking into the matter. The army has backed the investigation.

Gilani eventually backed away from his comments after army chief Gen. Pervez Ashfaq Kayani denied any intention to stage a coup and promised to support democracy. The prime minister on Monday denied reports he would replace Kayani or the army's intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, to neutralize the threat to his government.

But analysts have speculated the army may still try to force Zardari to resign over the scandal.

The president is scheduled to deliver a speech later Tuesday marking Bhutto's death in her family's hometown of Larkana in southern Sindh province.

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