World condemns Pakistan for army seizure of power

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The Independent Online

PAKISTAN'S MILITARY leaders spent yesterday in urgent consultations as the world condemned the army's removal of the country's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.

PAKISTAN'S MILITARY leaders spent yesterday in urgent consultations as the world condemned the army's removal of the country's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.

The discussions centred on what kind of government should replace the administration of Mr Sharif, who yesterday remained in "protective custody" after Tuesday's coup which was described by the army as "spontaneous."

After the talks, General Pervez Musharraf, the leader of the coup, held a meeting with President Rafiq Tarar, but made no statement afterwards. General Musharraf was seeking Mr Tarar's support to give future political arrangements some kind of democratic veneer. But it is still unclear whether Mr Tarar - a friend of the Sharif family - will give the army his support.

The morning after the coup, which took place hours after Mr Sharif sacked General Musharraf as the military chief, the streets of Islamabad were remarkably calm and relaxed. Many welcomed the overthrow and in Karachi supporters of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto danced in the streets.

"Nawaz Sharif deserved to fall. Everything he did was for the rich and not the poor," said one market stallholder in Islamabad. "Our economy had come to a complete stop" said another. "The country had become a one-man show."

So far there has been hardly any public opposition to the coup, with no reports of any pro-Sharif demonstrations, even in Lahore, his home town. But some Pakistanis did have doubts about the action. "It's bad for democracy" said Ali Hassan, a 25-year-old student.

Pakistan's neighbours were swift to condemn the coup, and the European Union demanded the immediate restoration of democratic rule. The Foreign Office minister Peter Hain said Britain will act to ensure Pakistan "is penalised as strongly as possible diplomatically". The Government also warned that Britain will press for Pakistan to be suspended from the Commonwealth at next month'ssummit. Washington adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

In Pakistan itself, troops continued to control all the country's main institutions. Confident of their command of the levers of power, they did not feel the need to make a show of force. Key buildings were only lightly guarded and the few army checkpoints that were erected were soon dismantled.

There is no official word as to the whereabouts of the ousted Prime Minister. In a telephone call to this newspaper, Mr Sharif's son, Hassan, who is studying in London, suggested that his father is in detention near Islamabad's airport.

Early on Tuesday evening, Mr Sharif had tried to forestall the coup by making a national address on television. But as he prepared to drive to the television station, troops blocked his path and told him either to reinstate the army chief or resign. According to Hassan Sharif his father was given an ultimatum "either to resign or reinstate General Musharraf". "I won't resign," Mr Sharif quoted his father as saying.

Although an army spokesman insisted that the military had no prior plans to launch a coup, it now appears that senior army officers had agreed among themselves to seize power from the civilian government in the event of the army chief being dismissed.

General Musharraf, who was fired while he was visiting Sri Lanka, managed to insist that the aircraft bringing him home landed at Karachi airport. One of the first things he did on landing was order the detention of the Pakistan International Airlines chairman, who had tried to divert the plane.