Hague appeals for calm in Pakistan amid coup fears


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Foreign Secretary William Hague today appealed for calm in Pakistan amid fears the army could be preparing to stage a military coup.

Mr Hague refused to comment on reports that embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani made a "panicky" telephone call to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad appealing for UK help.

He acknowledged however there were "a lot of risks" and urged all parties in the country to act in a way that "respects the constitution and helps ensure stability".

"I don't see at the moment signs of such panic. Certainly there has been a very tense situation this week in Pakistan," Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's The World at One .

"I hope there will now be a calmer period in Pakistan. While clearly there is tension, a lot of risks, we must not talk up those risks from outside the country."

The reported call this week by Mr Gilani - who is facing a parliamentary vote of no confidence - to High Commissioner Adam Thomson threatened to further damage relations between the country's civilian leadership and its powerful military.

Earlier this week the army publicly rebuked Mr Gilani after he criticised its leaders in an interview. He responded by sacking the defence secretary.

A Supreme Court commission is already investigating an unsigned memo sent to the US administration following the American raid which killed Osama bin Laden appealing for Washington's help in averting a supposed coup attempt.

At the same time the court is heading for a constitutional showdown with the government over its demand the government opens an investigation into corruption allegations against President Asif Ali Zadari dating back years.

Mr Hague acknowledged Britain had a "huge interest" in the stability of the nuclear-armed state, but insisted it would not interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs.

"We are not going to intervene directly in the affairs of Pakistan," he said. "We are not going to take sides in their internal political arguments. That is a matter for the people of Pakistan."

Pakistan has endured four coups by the army since gaining independence in 1947, however Mr Hague said he believed the dangers of a return to military rule were now well understood in the country.

"Given the history of Pakistan, we are all always conscious of that. I have often discussed that in the past with Pakistani politicians - what the dangers would be in the future having another period of military rule," he said.

"I think there is a greater determination (than) in the past both among some of the military leaders and certainly among the democratically elected political leaders that that mustn't happen again, that that would be damaging to Pakistan in so many ways."