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Pakistan's President sacks 'corrupt' PM: Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolves parliament and troops take over state broadcasting, preventing Nawaz Sharif from rallying support

The President of Pakistan, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, yesterday dissolved parliament and dismissed the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, accusing him of corruption and of 'unleashing a reign of terror' against his political foes that may include the poisoning of an army general.

Soldiers late last night surrounded the capital's state-run radio and television station to prevent the sacked prime minister from broadcasting a final rallying cry to his supporters. In minutes, Mr Sharif went from being the most powerful elected offical in the country to a solitary citizen, hounded and humiliated out of office. The President has wide powers, a vestige of Pakistan's former military dictatorship, which allow him to dismiss the government and hold elections within 90 days.

The sacked prime minister last night declared his dismissal illegal and said he would challenge in court the move by the President that relieved him of his post. 'I have made it clear this action is unlawful. We will challenge it,' Mr Sharif said.

At a press conference last night, the stern, 78-year-old President explained why he dismissed Mr Sharif's right- wing, Islamic government. 'The prime minister and his ministers unleashed a reign of terror against opponents of the government including personal and political rivals,' Mr Khan said.

Late last night Mr Khan announced that elections would be held on 14 July. His statement carried assurances that 'elections will be free and fair'.

Earlier, a caretaker cabinet, led

by an interim prime minister, Balkh Sher Mazari, was named by the President. Mr Mazari is a renegade parliamentarian from Mr Sharif's own party, the Muslim League. He comes from the Punjab and is described as non-controversial enough to satisfy Ms Bhutto, leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party, who rushed back to Islamabad yesterday following surgery and the birth of a daughter in London.

After dropping off the new baby at her Islamabad mansion, Ms Bhutto sped over to the President's office shortly before he sacked Mr Sharif. It was a bittersweet satisfaction for Ms Bhutto: the President had dismissed her own government in August 1990 and her husband, Asif Zardari, was harassed and finally jailed on corruption charges. Ms Bhutto said she supported the ousting of Mr Sharif. Her party, she said, would win the next elections.

The prime minister's dismissal is the climax to a long and fierce feud between the President and Mr Sharif, a conservative industrialist of little charisma but great wealth, whom Mr Khan had groomed for politics with the single-minded aim of defeating Ms Bhutto. But relations frayed after Mr Sharif tried to grab some of the President's broad powers for himself. Accusations turned nasty and personal, with the prime minister trying to arrest the President's errant son-in- law, Irfanullah Marwat, for allegedly raping air stewardesses, blackmail and stealing cars.

The President hit back by reviving allegations that Mr Sharif's deputy premier, Choudary Nisar, and the Intelligence Bureau chief, Brigadier Imtiaz, may have poisoned General Asif Nawaz, the ex-armed forces chief, who died three months ago. This possibility of the general's murder - raised last week by the general's widow - said the President, 'indicates that the highest functionaries are subverting the authority of the armed forces and machinery of the government'.

The final blow against Mr Sharif came after the prime minister, in a televised speech on Saturday, attacked the presidency as 'a den of conspirators' that was trying to topple his 30-month-old government. Over the past week, eight cabinet ministers and many parliamentarians, aware that the President was winning the battle, switched sides and left Mr Sharif dangling.

Mr Khan described the prime minister's challenging speech as 'tantamount to subversion' and 'an open call to agitation'. He also accused Mr Sharif of corruption and nepotism, and of using the banks and government agencies for political and personal gain.

The scalding accusations against Mr Sharif suggest that the President will not stop his vendetta until he has jailed the ex-prime minister and demolished the Sharif family's huge empire of factories, steel mills and property.