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Pakistani president's medical trip to Dubai triggers rumors

December 7, 2011 |  5:52 am

REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — President Asif Ali Zardari flew to Dubai this week to undergo tests related to a preexisting heart condition, triggering rumors of the Pakistani’s leader’s possible resignation that his aides Wednesday quickly dismissed as baseless.

Zardari made the trip in the midst of an ongoing probe into a scandal Pakistanis now call “Memogate” involving the delivery of a memo to the U.S. that urged Washington to help rein in the country’s powerful military. Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz claims he was asked by Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time, Husain Haqqani, to deliver to the U.S. government a letter seeking America’s help in preventing a military takeover of Zardari’s administration.

Ijaz has contended that Zardari endorsed the memo. Haqqani, who insists the letter was fabricated, was forced to step down while the investigation into the scandal continues.

Zardari’s aides flatly rejected a report on the website of U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine that the Pakistani leader may resign on the premise of “ill health” amid mounting pressure linked to the Memogate affair. The magazine quoted a former U.S. official as saying, “The noose was getting tighter — it was only a matter of time.”

“These are speculative, untrue reports,” said a senior Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on such matters. “These are routine medical checkups.”

The president’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, said Zardari left Islamabad Tuesday night to visit his children in Dubai and undergo medical tests related to a previously diagnosed heart condition. Zardari’s personal doctor and other staff accompanied him.

A statement released by Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani said Zardari underwent an initial round of tests in Dubai and was listed in stable condition. The senior Pakistani official said Zardari was expected to return to the capital soon, possibly later this week.

Following the posting of the Foreign Policy story, Twitter was abuzz with rumors of Zardari’s possible ouster. The memo scandal has incensed the country’s powerful military, which has always seen Zardari as too close to Washington.

Members of Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party blamed opposition leaders for fueling speculation about Zardari’s trip to the Persian Gulf city.

“We are used to such conspiracies and speculations,” Qamar Zaman Kaira, a leading PPP lawmaker, told a Pakistani television channel Wednesday. “Such things will go on.”


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Photo: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari speaks during the World Economic Forum. Credit: Muhammad Hamed / Reuters