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Pakistani Army Chief Formally Takes Chief Executive Position

By Pamela Constable and Kamran Khan

Pakistan’s armed forces chief declared a state of emergency Friday, suspending the constitution and naming himself the country’s chief executive as the military formalized its control over Pakistan two days after it overthrew the democratically elected government.

“The whole of Pakistan will come under the control of the armed forces of Pakistan,” Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, the army chief of staff, declared in a written statement.

Although the statement stopped short of declaring martial law, it left the country under effective military rule for the fourth time since it won independence from Britain in 1947.

The military’s announcement seemed likely to provoke strong international condemnation and further isolate Pakistan, an impoverished nation that depends largely on Western aid and loans. The Clinton administration and Western lenders have called for democracy to be restored as quickly as possible.

“We don’t like it when military leaders forcibly displace elected governments,” President Clinton said at a White House news conference a few hours before the army issued its statement. Clinton said he had asked U.S. Ambasssador William B. Milan, who has been on vacation in Washington, to return to Islamabad “to underscore my view directly to the military authorities and to hear their intentions.”

U.S. officials said Milan was to meet with Musharraf later Friday, the first contact between the administration and the military leadership since Tuesday’s bloodless takeover.

Administration officials had studiously avoided describing the army move as a “coup” -- a legal designation that requires the cutoff of economic aid under legislation aimed at discouraging military leaders from toppling democratic governments. But a senior administration official said that as a result of Friday morning’s army statement, the United States was now “regarding it as a military takeover.”

As a result, the official said, “we are going to invoke” the legal requirements to cut off remaining foreign assistance to Pakistan. In practice there is little U.S. aid to suspend: Washington has already severed most economic and military ties with Pakistan as a consequence of the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The 1 a.m. statement issued by Musharraf set no time limit for the state of emergency. It said that all government officials would “cease to hold office.” The National Assembly and all provincial legislatures were suspended and provincial governments and governors were dismissed. The statement said the Supreme Court and other courts would continue to function as long as they do not contradict military orders.

The statement said that President Rafiq Tarar, who holds a largely ceremonial post, will remain in office.