ISLAMABAD, June 26: Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has stepped down as prime minister of Pakistan, dissolved his cabinet and nominated the ruling Pakistan Muslim League president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain as his interim successor.

Mr Jamali made this announcement at a crowded news conference at the party headquarters (PML House) on Saturday evening.

Later, talking to reporters, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said that former finance minister Shaukat Aziz, who has been nominated as senior minister in the new cabinet by the outgoing prime minister, would eventually replace him (Shujaat) after getting elected from a National Assembly constituency.

Mr Shujaat did not say from which NA constituency would Mr Aziz contest election after resigning from his Senate seat. Nor did he give any timeframe for the "interim period".

While announcing his resignation, Mr Jamali said he had taken the step to "save the system and make way for a person capable of strengthening the party and running the government effectively."

"I hereby resign from the office of prime minister of Pakistan in order to ensure continuity of the system and to make way for some better person who can run the country in a better way".

Mr Jamali added: "We cannot leave any vacuum and for the time being and for the sake of continuity I recommend Chaudhry Shujaat to be my substitute who will be given a vote of confidence by coalition MNAs in the National Assembly on Tuesday.

There was a general perception that while Shaukat Aziz will wait for a few months for getting elected as MNA from a seat to be vacated by a party lawmaker, he will be performing most of the prime ministerial functions in his capacity as senior minister in the interim period.

In his brief remarks after Mr Jamali's announcement, Mr Shujaat said: "I accept this responsibility which has been assigned to me and will try to fulfil its demands for the time being and will take along the coalition partners in running the government".

The decision to nominate Mr Aziz, the sources said, was taken after efforts to find a consensus candidate from among the ruling coalition failed.

"Mr Hussain will be prime minister for the interim period till Shaukat Aziz becomes constitutionally eligible after getting elected as MNA," said information minister in the dissolved cabinet, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, in a television interview.

A large number of party members, including legislators, ministers and officials, had gathered at the PML House to greet the incoming and outgoing prime ministers but no party meeting was held as had been announced earlier.

Mr Jamali, who on Friday evening had rejected outright speculation of his imminent exit, was communicated the final decision of the president by none other than Chaudhry Shujaat at a dinner which he had hosted for coalition parties' MPs at the PM House.

He held his last meeting with President Musharraf on Saturday during which he was formally asked to announce his 'resignation' as well as nominate his substitute. Mr Shujaat was also present during the meeting.

The president also took other coalition parties' parliamentary groups, including the MQM and PPP (Patriots), into confidence about his decision.

In his resignation speech, Mr Jamali requested the allies to support Mr Shujaat in the assembly to win vote of confidence as the new leader of the house.

He said: "What was being reflected in the newspapers since last 37 days has come to pass. I bore all this with patience and tried to remain calm because I was thankful to Allah and then to General Musharraf who had nominated me for the slot."

He continued: "I have tried to do my best to keep everyone, including my cabinet colleagues, happy. My faith is strong, my intentions are good and my conscience is clear".

The outgoing premier added: "We have tried to change the political culture by showing maximum tolerance in dealing with the opposition."

He said some newspapers and television channels had broken news "in advance of my resignation" but "I am doing that in the presence of my party people and at the party headquarters."

He said there was a consideration in the party that the offices of party chief and the chief executive should held by one person and "this has now happened with the PML president becoming the (interim) PM."

Earlier, on arrival at the PML house, a grim-faced Humayun Akhtar, who had been cited as one of the top contenders for the top job, said: "I will accept whatever the party will decide."

The coalition partners, especially the MQM parliamentary group led by Dr Farooq Sattar, had already been informed about this stop-gap arrangement. They avoided disclosing the name to reporters, and said: "Let Mr Jamali announce it".

APP adds: Speaking at a press conference, the newly nominated prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said: "I shall continue as PM till Shaukat Aziz is elected National Assembly member because the Constitution does not provide for election of a senator as prime minister."

He said Mr Aziz "is the most appropriate candidate" for prime minister's job. He hoped that, under the leadership of Mr Aziz, the country would make rapid progress.

He said for the first time, the change of government had been completed peacefully and without any dispute.

He said he had been assigned the task of prime minister as PML chief and he would perform his duties with honesty and dedication till this responsibility was shifted to Shaukat Aziz.

He said: "I am sure Mr Aziz would take along the party workers and people, and would prove his worth as prime minister."

Mr Aziz interjected on this occasion by assuring that he will take along all the elected members and allies to achieve the goals of development and public welfare.

He said now there was a need to move forward and achieve the status of a developed and prosperous nation of the world.

Replying to a question, Mr Shujaat said Mr Aziz could contest election from any province "as PML has roots all over the country."

He said Mr Aziz would be the next prime minister and this had been decided by the party by consensus.

He said Mr Jamali tendered his resignation with open heart and for the first time the transfer of power was completed without any dispute.

Replying to a question about 'interim' prime minister, he said there was no question of 'interim period' and "my election as prime minister would be according to the Constitution."

Answering a question about the reasons for Mr Jamali's resignation, he said: "I do not want to go into details."

Resignation accepted

ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf on Friday accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

The president appreciated Mr Jamali's services to the nation and described him as a "person of sterling qualities of grace, dignity, sincerity and loyalty."

Mr Jamali, in his resignation, said he would always be available in the future for doing anything that he might be called upon to do in the service of the nation. -APP