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October 13, 1999


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Pak PM ousted by army, in custody

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Scott McDonald in Islamabad

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief was ousted in a lightning military coup and the army's chief told the country early today that his troops acted as a last resort to save a deteriorating situation.

Sharief, his brother Shahbaz, who is the chief minister of Punjab province, and intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Ziauddin were all taken into 'protective custody', a military spokesman said.

Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf swung into action against Sharief shortly after he was fired without warning by Sharief and replaced by Ziauddin.

''I wish to inform you that the armed forces have moved in as a last resort, to prevent further destabilisation,'' Musharraf said in a speech over state television early today.

''For the moment I only wish to assure you that the situation in the country is perfectly calm, stable and under control,'' he said.

Musharraf did not provide any details of the army's plans for Pakistan, nor did he mention what would be done with Sharief.

''I do not wish to make a lengthy policy statement at this moment. I shall do that very soon,'' he said.

The general's speech came at the end of a chaotic but peaceful 10-hour period that began with a government announcement that Musharraf had been sacked while flying back from a trip to Sri Lanka.

''I was in Sri Lanka on an official visit,'' Musharraf said. ''On my way back the PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) commercial flight was not allowed to land at Karachi but was ordered to be diverted to anywhere outside Pakistan despite acute shortage of fuel, imperilling the life of all the passengers.

''Thanks to Allah, this evil design was thwarted through speedy army action.''

Troops stormed state television centres, closed major airports, seized other government buildings and surrounded Sharief's official residence and homes of some cabinet ministers.

Bewildered Pakistanis took to the streets in droves in Islamabad and elsewhere, but the scenes were peaceful.

Shots were heard in an Islamabad suburb, but there was no confirmation of any clashes.

The showdown capped months of tension with the military and political establishment in turmoil, and exiled Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto blamed Sharief for provoking the coup.

Bhutto said Sharief -- her long-time bitter rival -- sought to politicise the army, and the army had therefore risen against him.

''He has sought to dismantle democracy, he has been sacking everyone -- the chief justice, the president -- attacked the press, the foreign investors, the opposition,'' she said.

While Sharief gave no reason for firing Musharraf, there has been tension between him and the military since the prime minister bowed to US pressure and called for withdrawal of guerrillas from the Indian side of the disputed Kashmir in July.

India put its armed forces on high alert as word came in of the moves against Sharief.

Other countries, including the United States, were quick to express concern over the situation in Pakistan, which has spent some half of its 52 years under military rule.

Market analysts said Pakistan risked losing billions of dollars in much-needed foreign loans resuscitated earlier this year due to the coup.

Speaking to Reuters and other news organisations in London, Bhutto said she would return to Pakistan if free and fair elections were allowed. She called for elections in three months.

Bhutto, who has twice governed Pakistan since 1988, did not rule out taking part in an interim administration leading up to elections if the military rulers adopted a 'moderate agenda' while arrangements were made for a poll.

''I have further heard that the ruling parliamentary party had contacted the army chief and offered him their support because they feel that Mr Nawaz Sharief was turning the country into a police state.

''I don't think the army has any choice but to revert to civilian rule because Pakistan is financially bankrupt, we've got a tense situation with India,'' Bhutto said.

Rejecting suggestions that Musharraf was an Islamic fundamentalist, she said, ''He is a professional soldier. He is very courageous and brave. He is not a cleric.''

Bhutto said that when she was in power Musharraf was her director general of military operations, and she praised him as a 'moderate'.

A professional commando and veteran of two wars with India, Musharraf was born in New Delhi in August 1943, migrated to Pakistan with his family, and joined the army in 1964.

The United States said that if the military had staged a coup, Washington would seek a prompt return to democracy and there could be no 'business as usual'.

''The situation is clearly fluid in Pakistan and it is clear that there are credible reports that Pakistan is now in political crisis,'' state department spokesman James Rubin told reporters.

Just three weeks ago, US officials expressed concern about a possible military coup because of political turmoil and opposition demands for the ouster of Sharief after he ordered the withdrawal of the militants from Kashmir.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku warned Pakistan could be suspended from the 50-strong grouping of mainly former British colonies if the coup reports were correct.

The impoverished south Asian country finalised agreements with international banks earlier this summer for renewal of $ 877 million in commercial loans and struck a deal with Western governments to roll over $ 3.3 billion in credits under the umbrella of the Paris Club.

But none of the agreements has been formally ratified and they could easily unravel in the absence of an elected government, analysts warned.

Also in doubt is the disbursement of a third instalment of a $ 1.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund that was under scrutiny even before the coup attempt. A spokesman said the IMF was watching the situation closely to see how it affects loans and economic plans.



Martial law clamped in Pakistan

High drama preceded coup in Pakistan

Indian troops put on high alert

Cautious US calls for early return to democracy

Commonwealth threatens to suspend Pakistan

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