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Musharraf support dropping, poll says

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Pervez Musharraf, already battling surging violence and a political crisis of his own making, got more bad news Wednesday from a rare public opinion poll in Pakistan.

Support for Musharraf, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism, has plummeted this year and almost two-thirds of respondents said he should quit, according to the poll by the International Republican Institute, a Washington-based group that has Republican lawmakers and officials among its directors and senior staff.

Another think tank, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, warned separately yesterday that Musharraf's apparent determination to hold onto power "at all costs" could result in spiraling violence and fuel Islamic radicalism.

Musharraf, an army general who seized power in 1999, is embroiled in the toughest period of his rule. He faces intensifying pressure to restore democracy, widespread anger at last month's deadly military raid on Islamabad's Red Mosque, and surging pro-Taliban violence.

Pakistan is also heading toward legislative and presidential elections, in which Musharraf is expected to seek a new five-year term.

The International Republican Institute's poll found dissatisfaction with Musharraf has surged since his botched bid to fire the country's top judge, along with a strong rise in support for his political rivals.

According to the institute, Musharraf's approval rating -- those respondents who thought he was doing a good job -- slipped to 34 percent in June from 54 percent in a February poll. At the same time, his disapproval rating rose to 49 percent from 26 percent.

In contrast, support for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan's largest opposition party, rose in the poll, with 54 percent of respondents favoring her as the best leader, compared to 34 percent for Musharraf. He has recently begun exploring a possible power-sharing arrangement with Bhutto, who is living in exile.

One-third of respondents said they supported his reelection, down from half in February. Opposition to his reelection rose to 64 percent in June from 40 percent in February.