Pakistan expels 3 British newspaper reporters

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 10 (Reuters) Pakistan ordered the expulsion of three journalists from a British newspaper for using ''foul and abusive'' language about the troubled country and its leadership, the government said today.

The decision come a week after military ruler President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule, suspended the constitution and slapped a ban on any coverage deemed to humiliate him or his government.

''Three foreign journalists have been given 72 hours to leave,'' Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said. ''They were using foul and abusive language against Pakistan and Pakistan's leadership.'' A senior information ministry official said all three worked for the Daily Telegraph. However colleagues of the correspondents said two worked for the Daily Telegraph and one for the Sunday Telegraph, and that one had already left the country.

The move was taken in response to an editorial published in the Daily Telegraph on Nov 9, the information ministry official said, asking not to be named. He gave no details.

The Daily Telegraph's editorial headquarters in London did not immediately comment on the report.

General Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has drawn wide international criticism for imposing emergency rule and arresting thousands of political opponents and lawyers in a crackdown.

He cited a hostile judiciary and rising militancy as the motive, but critics say he was simply pre-empting a pending Supreme Court ruling on whether he was eligible to run for reelection last month while still serving as army chief.

Musharraf issued rules prohibiting media from broadcasting or publishing statements ridiculing him, top government officials and the military on Nov 4.

He also stopped media from carrying statements from Islamist militants or their pictures. Under the curbs, an offender could be sentenced to up to three years in jail or fined up to 10 million rupees (167,000 dollars).

Private news channels, including the BBC and CNN, have been off the air for days. Police even stopped sales of satellite dishes in at least two cities as Pakistanis sought other ways to access news.

Private news and entertainment channels had been airing talk shows and political satires ridiculing Musharraf and government policies. Their screens have been blacked out on cable and several are now streaming programmes on the Internet.

REUTERS PJ KP2153

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