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Pakistan Under Emergency Rule, Musharraf Suspends Constitution

  • VOA News

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has imposed a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. He told his nation terrorism and extremism had reached their limit, and said judicial interference was paralyzing the government.

Troops entered the Supreme Court in Islamabad and took away the chief justice Iftikar Chaudhry, whose suspension earlier this year had triggered a nationwide series of protests. The court was to rule in a few days on the validity of Mr. Musharraf's re-election as president last month by Parliament.

Troops also arrested Aitzaz Ahsan the president of Pakistan's Bar Association, the attorney leading the legal challenge to General Musharraf's re-election.

The United States, Pakistan's biggest ally, says it is "deeply disturbed" by Mr. Musharraf's action. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto says the president's action amounts to martial law.

Reports are coming in of the detention of opposition political figures, including Imran Khan, the former national cricket captain who was placed under house arrest at his home in Lahore.

Late Saturday evening, President Musharraf appeared on television for a lengthy speech explaining and justifying his actions. He said he declared the state of emergency in the interests of the Pakistani nation, as a result of the security threats posed by Islamic extremists.

Many communications lines were cut after the state of emergency was declared, and private television broadcasts were blacked out in parts of the country. The government issued a new press ordinance sharply restricting the publication or broadcast of any material about terrorist groups or their activities, as well as any commentaries that defame the head of state or Pakistan's military leaders.

Mr. Musharraf also is general and commander-in-chief of Pakistan's armed forces, but he wore traditional (Punjabi) civilian clothing on television.

He said the government and Parliament will continue to function during the state of emergency, and pledged that he remains committed to holding parliamentary elections. However, there is no word whether the elections will take place in January, as scheduled.

Reports from Islamabad say the capital city seemed outwardly unaffected by the political upheaval. Despite the presence of troops at key government buildings, people were traveling to restaurants and shops as normal.

Pakistan has nuclear arms for its defense forces, but the nation's biggest problem this year has been its deteriorating internal security. Militants inspired by or linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network have staged a series of suicide attacks, including the recent bomb blasts that killed 139 people on the day former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned from exile.

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