US disappointed as Musharraf sets emergency rule

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WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Reuters) The United States had cautioned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf against declaring emergency rule and urged him today to stick to his pledge to hold free elections early next year.

''This action is very disappointing,'' said White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

''President Musharraf needs to stand by his pledges to have free and fair elections in January and step down as chief of army staff before retaking the presidential oath of office,'' Johndroe added.

Musharraf imposed emergency rule today in a bid to reassert his flagging authority against challenges from Islamist militants, a hostile judiciary and political rivals.

''All parties involved should move along the democratic path peacefully and quickly,'' Johndroe said.

Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while on a visit to Turkey, said she was ''deeply disturbed'' by Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule, calling it a step backward for democracy.

''The US has made very clear that it does not support extra-constitutional measures as they would take Pakistan away from the path of democracy and civilian rule,'' Rice told reporters as she was taking off from Turkey.

''We will be urging the commitment to hold free and fair elections be kept and we will be urging calm on all parties,'' she said while en route to Jerusalem.

Rice said she had spoken multiple times recently to Pakistan's leaders as had other Bush administration officials and expressed strong US reservations about declaring emergency rule. She said she had not spoken to Musharraf since he made the announcement today.

''I am not going to provide the details of those discussions except to say we made very clear that extra-constitutional means would not be supported by the United States,'' said Rice.

When speculation was rife in August that Musharraf was set to declare a state of emergency, Rice called him twice to make clear this was a move Washington strongly opposed and there must be greater efforts toward civilian rule via democratic elections.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan's internal security has deteriorated sharply in the past few months with a wave of suicide attacks by al Qaeda-inspired militants, including one last month that killed 139 people.

The Bush administration has become increasingly impatient with a backslide in democracy and has been pushing moderates including opposition politician Benazir Bhutto to form a partnership with Musharraf.

While impatient with Musharraf over human rights and other issues, the United States has sought to remain on close terms with him as it needs Pakistan's close cooperation on fighting terrorism.

''Americans should value President Musharraf's friendship and Pakistan's help in the war on terror, but this cannot sway us from our concern for Pakistani democracy,'' said Republican Sen. John McCain, who is running for nomination for the US presidency.

''Today's action takes a disappointing step in the wrong direction,'' he added.

REUTERS PBB AS0249

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