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Criticism Flies Over Musharraf Proposals

June 28, 2002|From Times Wire Services

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, faced a torrent of criticism Thursday over proposed constitutional changes that would give him sweeping powers to sack a civilian prime minister, fire the Cabinet and dissolve an elected parliament.

The draft of constitutional amendments, presented as a package for national debate, includes plans for a 10-member National Security Council of generals and civilians headed by Musharraf.

Opposition parties gearing up for National Assembly elections in October rejected the proposals, billed by the government as a blueprint for "sustainable federal democracy," as a transparent attempt to cement the generals' control.

"Far from making democracy sustainable, the document released by the junta ... if implemented, will ring the death knell of democracy in the country," the Pakistan People's Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said in a statement.

The Pakistan Muslim League led by exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted in 1999, called the draft amendments a recipe for disaster.

The country's Bar Council, its highest body of lawyers, said members would meet in Lahore on July 6 to discuss fighting the proposals.

But Musharraf's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, said Musharraf would be shedding powers to the National Security Council if the amendments passed.

Meanwhile, Pakistan sent 100 more soldiers into the mountains along the border with Afghanistan on Thursday to join the search for 40 suspected Al Qaeda fighters believed to be hiding among the armed tribesmen in the region.

The troops, backed by helicopters and armored vehicles, joined more than 500 soldiers who have been in the area since Wednesday, when gunmen opened fire on Pakistani soldiers, killing 10.

Qureshi said soldiers had arrested "some Al Qaeda men" since Wednesday morning. It was unclear if those arrested were linked to Wednesday's attack.

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