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October 26, 1999
Commonwealth ministers want to see Sharief
A team of Commonwealth ministers visiting Pakistan this week wants to see detained prime minister Nawaz Sharief, who was deposed by a military coup on October 12, diplomats said today.
They said the team, due to arrive on Wednesday or Thursday to discuss prospects for a return to democracy with Pakistan's new rulers, had written to the military. They expressed their desire to see Sharief, who had not been seen in public since October 12.
The government's response was not immediately known. Sharief was detained on the day of the military takeover and taken into what the army called ''protective custody'' pending an investigation into his financial conduct and the crisis over army appointments that precipitated the bloodless coup.
It was not known if he was being detained in his native Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, or close to the army headquarters in Islamabad. His brother, Shahbaz, was also detained, with other key members of Sharief's Pakistan Muslim League. Most other serving government ministers have been freed from virtual house arrest but have adopted a low profile.
The Commonwealth has suspended Pakistan's participation at a summit in South Africa next month to punish the army for overturning democratic rule and would also take a final decision on Islamabad's membership in the grouping at the Durban meeting.
A team led by Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy is due in Pakistan this week for talks with senior figures in the new leadership, including army ruler General Pervez Musharraf.
Meanwhile, General Musharraf refused to be drawn into the remarks published today about the fate of Nawaz Sharief.
Gen Musharraf made his comments in interviews with two Saudi- owned, London-based newspapers on the first day of a visit to Saudi Arabia.
Asked by the Asharq-al-Awsat daily about the fate of Sharief, he Said, ''You will see later. Let time decide and Mr Sharief himself will see what we will do.''
Asked if he would hand over power to an elected civilian government, Gen Musharraf said, ''There is no specific time regarding this.''
''All I know is that I will concentrate on improving the economic situation in the country, consolidate unity and lead Pakistan to new horizons. That is when my work is finished and I hope this will happen as soon as possible,'' he added.
''I have not set the date yet, but I have set what I will do to improve the economy and when my mission ends then elections will be held and I hope it will be as soon as possible,'' he told Al-Hayat.
Gen Musharraf said he would seek Saudi support during his talks. ''I will put King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah in the picture regarding the latest developments in Pakistan and will also ask for support and help,'' he said.
Gen Musharraf said the fact he left Pakistan on a foreign trip less than 20 days after the coup showed ''my confidence that everything in Pakistan is okay and is under control.''
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