Pakistan to dominate Commonwealth summit

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KAMPALA, Nov 21 (Reuters) A summit of the 53-nation Commonwealth this weekend will be dominated by a decision on whether to suspend Pakistan for a second time because of President Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule.

Nine days ago, the club of mostly former British colonies threatened suspension unless Musharraf lifted the state of emergency and restored democracy by November 22.

Suspension will be discussed by the Commonwealth ministerial action group (CMAG) which meets tomorrow, the eve of a three-day summit of leaders representing 1.8 billion people, more than a quarter of the world's population.

Musharraf, who will not be in Kampala, has begun easing the state of emergency but he is unlikely to have done enough to meet the Commonwealth's demands by the time the summit starts.

Pakistan asked yesterday for a delay in the decision and urged a CMAG delegation to visit the country.

Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said Pakistan was ''perilously close'' to suspension.

''Pakistan is going to be a major issue... leaders told Musharraf you cannot be wearing military uniform and maintain Commonwealth good principles,'' he told reporters today.

Suspension has few practical implications but is designed to send a message to a country that its conduct is unacceptable to a body that prides itself on championing democracy.

Pakistan was first suspended in 1999 when Musharraf seized power in a coup, and reinstated in 2004. If it is barred again, it will join Fiji, which was suspended last December after a coup by military chief Frank Bainimarama.

CMAG will also discuss Fiji which has promised elections by early 2009 although critics say little progress has been made towards democracy.

CLIMATE AND TRADE The Commonwealth leaders, eager to show their relevance as a unique body cutting across traditional regional groupings, will also discuss climate change and trade. There are potential divisions on both issues.

Officials say the summit has the opportunity to issue a statement pushing for action on climate change before a meeting of world environment ministers in Bali next month that will launch talks on a new deal to succeed the UN's Kyoto protocol.

Many Commonwealth island nations face threats from rising sea levels and some in the Pacific are furious with Australia, a major greenhouse gas emitter, for refusing to ratify Kyoto.

Experts say Africa has been largely ignored in the debate on climate which is likely to have a major impact on the continent.

Trade could divide Commonwealth members, with South Africa leading the charge against farm subsidies in Western industrial nations. McKinnon said the summit would push for an end to market-distorting subsidies that amounted to three times all the aid going to the developing world.

Uganda's political opposition has denounced the Commonwealth for easing pressure on President Yoweri Museveni over his iron-fisted treatment of political dissent after the previous summit two years ago when it was a focus of attention.

It plans demonstrations on Friday when the summit opens.

REUTERS RJ AS1932

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