New Prime Minister Sworn In, Replacing Fired One, Who Calls A Strike
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ The new prime minister of Pakistan-held Kashmir took the oath of office early today, and his jailed predecessor called for a strike.
Chief Justice Sardar Mohammed Ashraf of the Azad Kashmir (Free Kashmir) Supreme Court was sworn in early today as acting prime minister of the semi- autonomous state in the Himalayas.
President Sardar Abdul Qayyum invoked his constitutional powers to fire Prime Minister Mumtaz Rathore on Friday following a weeklong power struggle.
The president was quoted as saying that outbursts by Rathore after his party’s overwhelming defeat in last week’s legislative elections threatened to incite violence and damage Pakistan’s stand in the Kashmir dispute with India.
Rathore complained of vote-rigging, among other charges, and called a province-wide strike today to protest the election results.
About half of the shops and businesses in Muzafarrabad shut down in response to the call, residents said.
Less than an hour before the swearing-in, held before dawn, the president told reporters the ceremony would be held later in the day. A presidential spokesman said the ceremony was moved up for legal reasons.
″The program was changed at the last minute because our lawyer said there should not be a gap of 12 hours,″ said Mohammad Farooq, a spokesman for Qayyum.
The official Associated Press of Pakistan reported that Rathore was taken by helicopter from Muazaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, to an undisclosed location.
Azad Kashmir once was part of a larger Kashmir, a former princely state divided between Islamic Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India in the 1947 partition of the subcontinent. India and Pakistan are longtime enemies.
Muslim secessionists in Indian-controlled Kashmir have been fighting for independence since January 1990. The uprising has killed more than 2,500 people.
India accuses Pakistan of arming, training and harboring the insurgents. Pakistan denies it, but says it supports the Kashmiris’ right to self- determination.
Rathore had headed a fragile coalition government since May 1990.
In the June 29 legislative elections, his left-leaning Pakistan People’s Party and its allies were overwhelmingly defeated by the conservative Muslim Conference, winning only two of the 40 assembly seats. The Muslim Conference won 28 seats.
Charging widespread rigging and vote fraud, Rathore fired the Election Commission, invalidiated the balloting, demanded that new elections be held on Sept. 27, and threatened civil war if opponents tried to remove him.
But Rathore received little backing from the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Ms. Bhutto, who said little about Rathore’s allegations, left Pakistan on Thursday for a three-week tour of Britain and Europe.
Ms. Bhutto herself was dismissed abruptly last August on charges ranging from corruption to political ineptitude. She is being tried before special one-judge courts on charges of misconduct and abuse of power during her 20 months in office.
Three months after her ouster, Ms. Bhutto and the Pakistan People’s Party were drubbed in national and provincial elections that relegated the party to a weak opposition.
Like Rathore, she alleged widespread rigging and voter fraud and demanded new elections.