Commonwealth perils Pak with suspension

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London, Nov 12:The Commonwealth of 53 countries, mostly former British colonies, today threatened Pakistan with suspension unless President Pervez Musharraf repealed emergency laws and took other steps by November 22.

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

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Among measures demanded were the immediate repeal of emergency laws introduced 10 days ago, the restoration of the constitution, for Musharraf to step down as chief of the army, and for immediate progress to be made on holding free and fair elections.

''The message is, 'you've got about 10 days','' McKinnon said, in comments directed at Musharraf. ''We believe you can achieve this.'' The Commonwealth's ministerial action group is due to meet in Kampala, Uganda, on November 22, the eve of a Commonwealth heads of government summit, when Pakistan's progress will be reviewed.

As well as the other measures demanded by the Commonwealth, McKinnon said Musharraf, who took power in a coup in 1999, should free all political prisoners and lift curbs on the media.

Musharraf set off a storm of international criticism when he imposed emergency laws on November 3, suspending the constitution, sacking most judges, locking up lawyers and rounding up thousands of members so the opposition.

The Commonwealth action group issued its statement after a meeting that ran nearly two hours over schedule, suggesting that there were differences of opinion among members. However, McKinnon was resolute in his statement.

''The group expressed support for and solidarity with the people of Pakistan who have the right to enjoy the provisions and protections of its constitution with fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly and the rule of law,'' he said.


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