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Musharraf 'not poodle of the US'

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has denied he is fighting terrorism on behalf of the US and Britain.

In an interview with the UK's Guardian newspaper, Gen Musharraf said he was "nobody's poodle".

Gen Musharraf condemned a US air strike targeting militants in Pakistan in January in which 18 people died as an "infringement of our sovereignty".

The president has faced increasing domestic criticism over his relationship with Washington.

There were widespread anti-US protests during a visit to Pakistan last month by US President George W Bush, while opposition leaders have accused Gen Musharraf of being too closely allied to the United States.

'Democratic belief'

Gen Musharraf, who is fighting militants in Baluchistan and along the Afghan border, said stamping out terrorism was in Pakistan's interests.

"When you are talking about fighting terrorism of extremism, I'm not doing that for the US or Britain. I'm doing it for Pakistan," he told the Guardian.

"It's not a question of being a poodle. I'm nobody's poodle. I have enough strength of my own to lead."

Gen Musharraf said he had a "lot of teeth" to stand up for himself, but said "sometimes the teeth do not have to be shown. Pragmatism is required in international relations".

The president, who seized power in a military coup in 1999 and has promised to hold free and fair elections next year, conceded it was "ironic that I'm sitting in uniform talking about democracy.

He said, "My popularity has gone down... but at this moment my country needs me.

"I've put a strong constitutional democratic system in place. That will throw up a successor. I'm a strong believer in democracy."

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