Embattled Zardari back in Pakistan after Dubai trip

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari arriving at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow in May 11, 2011 file photo. President Zardari is under pressure from the army and the courts

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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has returned home after taking a trip to Dubai, officials say.

His departure on Thursday came amid a deepening political crisis with the military.

Mr Zardari had heart treatment in Dubai last month. Officials said he was there to attend a wedding.

Recent tensions between the government and the armed forces have raised fears for the stability of the country, which has a history of military coups.

On Wednesday the military publicly rebuked Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, warning of "serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences" after he criticised military leaders in a media interview.

Mr Gilani sacked his defence secretary, who is seen as having close ties to the military, in a move likely to heighten frictions with military leaders.

But in a move seen by analysts as a sign of easing tensions, Mr Gilani called a meeting of the cabinet's defence committee for Saturday.

This will be the first time civilian and military officials will meet face-to-face since the latest crisis erupted. They are likely to discuss last year's Nato attack on a Pakistani border post.

Deeply humiliated

But relations between the government and the military have been in freefall for many weeks.

Last month Mr Gilani said conspirators were plotting to bring down his government, without specifically blaming the military. That prompted the army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani to dismiss coup rumours.

At the heart of the rift is an anonymous memo which sought US help to avert a possible military coup in Pakistan following the killing by US forces of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in May.

It is not clear who wrote the memo or conveyed it to the Americans. They say they received it but took no action. Pakistan's Supreme Court is investigating.

Pakistan's military - deeply humiliated by the discovery of Bin Laden on Pakistani soil and the secret US operation to kill him - has been incensed by the affair.

The scandal has already cost Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, his job. He denies any role in the memo, as does President Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr Zardari could be forced to quit if the trail is found to lead to his door.

The government is also on a collision course with the judiciary, which wants to reopen old corruption cases in which the president argues he is innocent.

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