Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, under a serious threat of impeachment from the country's governing coalition, has announced he is resigning from office "in the interest of the nation."
Musharraf said in an hourlong televised speech that he can prove that allegations made against him by his political opponents in parliament are false. But he said doing so would result in a long political crisis -- and that no mater who won that battle, Pakistan would suffer.
"After looking at the whole situation and, after consulting my legal advisers and close political supporters, and on their advice, I am announcing my resignation today," he said. "My resignation will be delivered to the speaker of the National Assembly today."
Musharraf, a former army chief and a close ally in the U.S.-led war against terrorism, seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999. In the process, he deposed then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- who is now a key member of the governing coalition that has been pushing for his impeachment.
Pakistan's Constitution does not allow for a vice president. Instead, the chairman of the upper house of parliament, the Senate, becomes caretaker president in the case that the president dies or otherwise leaves office.
U.S. President George W. Bush said he appreciated Musharraf's efforts to fight Al-Qaeda and extremists.
"President Bush is committed to a strong Pakistan that continues its efforts to strengthen democracy and fight terror," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "President Bush looks forward to working with the government of Pakistan on the economic, political and security challenges they face."
Somo As Caretaker President
Senate Chairman Mohammad Mian Somo, formerly a close ally of Musharraf, is expected to become the caretaker president after Musharraf's resignation is confirmed.
Pakistan's electoral college, which formally elects the country's president, would be expected to name a new president within 90 days.
During his rule, Musharraf had promised to return Pakistan to democracy. But his critics say he stifled political freedom. A 2002 general election was widely seen as faulty -- and it was the parliament that emerged from that 2002 ballot that elected Musharraf president. Musharraf turned to that same parliament again to reelect him before its term ended in late 2007.
As political challenges mounted against him, Musharraf reverted to autocratic ways.
Political analysts trace his downfall to March 9, 2007, when he tried to force Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to resign. It was Chaudhry's defiance that mobilized a lawyers' movement to defend the judiciary and also galvanized Musharraf's political opposition.
It was out of desperation last November that Musharraf imposed emergency rule for six weeks in an attempt to purge the judiciary before the Supreme Court could rule on the legality of his reelection.
After securing a second term, Musharraf quit the post of army chief to meet a constitutional requirement and set a date for fresh general elections. He has become increasingly politically isolated since his allies badly lost that election in February.
In recent weeks, the governing coalition had prepared impeachment charges against Musharraf that focused on allegations that he had repeatedly violated the constitution and was involved in "gross misconduct."
All four of Pakistan's provincial assemblies also passed resolutions in recent days declaring no confidence in him and pressing him to resign, and several old allies also joined the campaign against him.
Coalition officials had hoped Musharraf would quit to avoid impeachment. Some of his allies have said he should at least answer charges brought against him before stepping down. In his resignation speech, Musharraf spent an hour defending his political and economic record before announcing his resignation.
Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Britain have been involved in negotiations aimed at ending confrontation between Musharraf and the government.
The United States has said the question of Musharraf's future was for Pakistanis to decide.