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October 13, 1999
Pak coup triggers global consternation
The lightning coup in which Pakistan's military toppled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief set off a chorus of condemnation worldwide today.
The coup late yesterday has jeopardised billions of dollars in international loans to impoverished Pakistan and prompted neighbouring India to put its army on alert, and aroused new fears of nuclear tensions.
It provoked Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku to warn that Pakistan could be suspended from the 54-strong grouping of mainly former British colonies.
''An unconstitutional overthrow of a democratically elected government would be in contravention of the Commonwealth's fundamental political values, and would therefore be totally unacceptable to the Commonwealth,'' he said in a statement.
The United States ruled out 'business as usual' with Islamabad and said it would seek a prompt return to democracy. But a senior official declined to call the action a military coup or say it violated the Pakistani constitution.
''The question of the constitutionality of any future government is not an obvious question. Those of you who may know something about Pakistan know the different twists and turns that democracy has taken and their constitution has taken,'' added the official, who asked not to be named.
The coup could also endanger plans by President Bill Clinton to visit South Asia next year.
Germany urged the coup leaders to eschew violence against Sharief's government. ''...It (Germany's federal government) calls on those responsible to respect the constitutional order and not to use violence against the constitutional organs of state,'' the foreign ministry said.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned the coup leaders that Britain strongly condemned any unconstitutional action. ''I am deeply worried by the situation in Pakistan,'' Cook said in a statement.
''Events are still unfolding but the military there must be under no illusion -- we will strongly condemn any unconstitutional action. I call on all parties to respect the constitution, the rule of law and the democratic process,'' he added.
Australia also condemned the seizure of power, which was apparently bloodless. ''Australia is deeply concerned at the unconstitutional overthrow of the democratically elected government in Pakistan,'' Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer told parliament. ''Australia calls for the earliest restoration of democracy... And that the constitution and the rule of law be respected,'' he added.
Japan, Pakistan's biggest bilateral aid donor, said it hoped the coup would be resolved peacefully. ''We hope that both the government and the army refrain from resorting to violence and solve the situation through dialogue,'' the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It did not say if Japan was considering any sanctions after the coup, which saw the army take Sharief and other top government officials into 'protective custody'.
Thailand said the coup could prove a setback to efforts to defuse nuclear proliferation in South Asia. ''It is an issue of concern because the area has already been affected by the nuclear proliferation,'' Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said.
Foreign ministry officials in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka said they were closely watching the situation in Pakistan.
Bangladesh, once a part of Pakistan and tangled in political chaos itself, reacted cautiously to the military coup in Pakistan. ''We are closely watching the situation (in Pakistan). We do not have a clear picture on the actual scenario in Pakistan,'' State Minister of Foreign Affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury said.
The nation's newspapers published news of the military takeover in Pakistan on their front pages but without any editorial comments.
Commonwealth leaders will discuss the coup in Pakistan and the country's continued membership in the group at a meeting next month, New Zealand's foreign minister said today in Wellington. ''This is an issue that the heads of government will definitely address,'' Don McKinnon, who is the leading candidate to be the next Commonwealth secretary-general, told reporters.
The next Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting is due to take place in Durban four weeks from now. McKinnon said the Commonwealth would encourage the military authorities in Pakistan to hand power back to the elected leaders.
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