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West Accused in Pakistan

October 20, 1999

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani politicians and religious groups said today that Western criticism of the country’s new military regime would backfire

Miraj Mohammed Khan, secretary-general of the small Movement for Justice party, said strident criticism from Western leaders would foster anti-West sentiment among Pakistan’s 140 million people.

He warned against imposing sanctions that could hurt ordinary Pakistanis, whose annual income averages barely $800, according to U.N. figures.

``People will become more hostile toward the West if any action is taken against Pakistan,″ said Khan, whose party is headed by former cricket star Imran Khan. ``This is a popular government and people will defend it.″

Pakistan’s new regime sharply criticized a decision by the Commonwealth to suspend the country’s membership in the wake of last week’s military coup. The organization of Britain and its former colonies will send a mission to Islamabad to press for the return to democracy.

``Pakistan should immediately quit the Commonwealth,″ said Munawar Hassan, secretary-general of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami party, who criticized what he saw as Western ``meddling″ in Pakistani affairs.

``People in Pakistan are happy not because of the military takeover, but because the corrupt Nawaz Sharif government has been ousted. If the military doesn’t move in the right direction, people will be on the streets,″ he said.

Army Chief Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf overthrew Pakistan’s elected government Oct. 12 saying ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was driving Pakistan to ruin. Musharraf suspended the constitution and launched an investigation into corrupt practices.

But the army chief has not curbed fundamental rights or imposed restrictions on the press.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken out against the coup. The United States, while calling for an early return to democracy, has taken a ``wait and see″ attitude toward Musharraf.

Within the next week Musharraf is expected to announce the six-member army and civilian National Security Council that will govern the country, with the help of a so-called think tank of experts and a Cabinet.

Khan said today that Western countries have supported dictators and monarchs in the past and it would be hypocritical of them to be to harsh on Musharraf’s military regime.

``Western countries have a record of supporting dictators and monarchies,″ he said.

Some of Pakistan’s religious parties also have spoken out against the criticism and accused the West of ignoring Sharif’s excesses while in power, including his attacks on opponents and mass arrests.

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