Sunday, November 4, 2007

West urges Pakistan to lift martial law, return to democracy

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was under fire at home and abroad Sunday after declaring an indefinite state of emergency that the West is calling a blow to democracy.

Pakistani Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said the move -- which suspends the constitution and expands Musharraf's powers -- was necessary because "things had gone totally haywire."

Musharraf made the declaration Saturday in reaction to what he said was judicial activism by the state's high court. Musharraf has been tussling with the Supreme Court since at least March, when he removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, citing judicial misconduct.

The Supreme Court -- which reinstated Chaudhry in July in what many called a political blow to Musharraf -- was amid hearing arguments from opposition leaders who said that Musharraf's victory in the October elections should be overturned because Musharraf was not eligible to serve a third term while heading the country's military.

Khan said parliamentary elections slated for January have been postponed indefinitely, but Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said later no such decision had been made.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that Musharraf did not consult Washington before declaring the state of emergency, a move she called "highly regrettable." The U.S. told the Pakistani leadership before Saturday that it does not support "extra-constitutional means," she said. Video Watch why Rice says she is disappointed with Musharraf's actions »

"It is in the best interest of Pakistan and in the best interest of the Pakistani people for there to be a prompt return to a constitutional course, for there to be an affirmation that elections will be held for a new parliament, and for all parties to act with restraint in what is obviously a very difficult situation," she said.
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Later in the day, Rice said the U.S. would review its financial aid package to Pakistan, a key ally in the war on terror. She conceded the matter would be complicated because much of the aid goes to counterterrorism.

Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the 27-nation European Union, also implored Musharraf to keep the January elections on track. Solana told The Associated Press he realizes Pakistan is facing difficulties in its political and security situations, but "any deviation from the general democratic process cannot be a solution."

Solana, in a statement, urged Musharraf "to abide by the rule of law, notably to respect the boundaries of the constitution" and asked that political parties show "restraint to facilitate a quick return to normalcy."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also expressed concerns about the state of emergency, saying Pakistan's future "rests on harnessing the power of democracy and the rule of law to achieve the goals of stability, development and countering terrorism."

As part of the state of emergency, the Pakistani government has a list of about 1,500 opposition figures, mostly activists and lawyers to be rounded up, according to police sources and witnesses. Chaudhry is one of seven Supreme Court judges placed under house arrest after the court declared Musharraf's state of emergency illegal under the constitution.

Shortly after the court ruling, troops went to Chaudhry's office and told him he was fired, the judge's office said. Massive protests ensued after Chaudhry was removed from the bench earlier this year. See a timeline of events leading up to the state of emergency »

The head of Pakistan's human rights commission, Asma Jahangir, said she, too, was under house arrest and that Musharraf "has lost his marbles."

Khan, the information minister, said the house arrests are "a very temporary measure" and were targeting "people who have been causing law and order situations."

Pakistanis reacted to the country's turmoil Sunday with a mixture of anger and apathy, according to AP.

Said factory worker Faisal Sayed, "Pakistan is bad because of one person: Musharraf. He has ruined our country."

But day laborer Togul Khan, 38, had a more cynical outlook as he waited for work on an Islamabad street corner, AP reported.

"What's the point of talking about this?" he asked. "The politicians have lifted Pakistan into the sky and spun it round before bringing it crashing down to earth -- but nothing will change for us." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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