Britain urges Musharraf to end military rule

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LONDON, Nov 13 (Reuters) - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today that military rule imposed by Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf must be lifted within 10 days.

Asked if the British government backed a call by Commonwealth ministers yesterday that military rule must end by November 22, Miliband said: ''Absolutely, the Commonwealth position was one that the UK played an important part in creating.'' Ministers from several Commonwealth countries, including Britain, threatened Pakistan with suspension from the group unless Musharraf repeals emergency laws, restores the constitution and steps down as army chief by November 22.

''That's why the 10 days has become important,'' Miliband told BBC radio.

Miliband was speaking just after Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto called for Musharraf to leave power and warned that the situation in her country could only get worse if he continued to maintain what she described as his ''dictatorship''.

Bhutto also urged Miliband to ask Musharraf to quit, but Miliband said only that he would consider her request and insisted that fair elections were the key to progress.

''I will look obviously at what Benazir Bhutto has said, but the point of consensus up until now with all of our international partners ... has been about the centrality of free and fair elections,'' he said.

''In the end, it has to be the people of Pakistan who decide who their government should be, not me.'' Bhutto has long called for Musharraf to step down as army chief and become a civilian president but Tuesday was the first time she had called for him to quit as president altogether.

She also said she would now never serve as prime minister under him.

Military ruler Musharraf set off a storm of criticism when he imposed emergency rule earlier this month. He suspended the constitution, sacked most judges, locked up lawyers, rounded up thousands of opposition and rights activists and curbed the media.

The crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan has raised fears about its stability and its ability to focus on battling a growing Islamist militancy.

The Commonwealth of 53 mainly former British colonies threatened Pakistan with suspension yesterday unless Musharraf reversed his recent moves.

''If, after a review of progress, Pakistan has failed to implement these necessary measures, it (the Commonwealth) will suspend Pakistan from the councils of the Commonwealth,'' the group's secretary-general, Don McKinnon, said.

REUTERS SKB RAI1507

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