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Wednesday, October 13, 1999 Published at 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK

World: South Asia

Opposition happy at Sharif dismissal

Mrs Bhutto urged fresh elections and a return to civilian rule

Pakistan's opposition has welcomed the removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a cautious reaction to the military takeover of the country.

Pakistan in crisis
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan, a former cricket star and leader of the Justice party, have said the move was not unexpected.

Both politicians blamed Mr Sharif for sparking Tuesday's military coup.

Benazir Bhutto: "Mr Sharif ruthlessly trampled on the rule of law"
Ms Bhutto told the BBC in London that Mr Sharif was an "unpopular dictator" whose attempts to divide the army had triggered the military revolt.

"Mr Sharif boasted he was a man of crisis," Ms Bhutto said. "This crisis overcame him."

She said he had attacked the president and the supreme court, as well as accusing the press of treason. "He fought with everyone."

Ms Bhutto also said members of the ruling parliamentary party were backing Pakistan's army chief because they felt that Mr Sharif was turning the country into a police state.

Imran Khan: "Everyone in this country has welcomed the army"
But Ms Bhutto, a long-time adversary of Mr Sharif, said she did not think the army had any choice but to revert to civilian rule.

"My message to the army is that if you were provoked into the action the world will understand if you give a firm date for fair elections and go back to the barracks."

Asked about a possible return to Pakistan, Ms Bhutto said she would only do so if General Musharraf supported the "forces of democracy".

She faces arrest on her return home after being convicted by a Pakistan court of corruption.

Imran attack

Meanwhile, leader of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-insaaf (Justice) party, Imran Khan, said people in Pakistan welcomed the coup.

"The sad thing is, everyone in this country has welcomed the army," he told the BBC.

[ image: Imran Khan: Coup did not come as a surprise]
Imran Khan: Coup did not come as a surprise
Mr Sharif ran a fascist government, he said, and wanted to gain control over every institution in the country in order to become "a middle-eastern monarch".

"The only thing that stood in the way of Sharif from becoming a complete dictator was the army and he was trying to manipulate the army to get his man on top."

But Imran Khan also said he did not believe that Pakistan was headed towards instability and a confrontation with neighbouring India.

"If anything, the country is more stable now," he said.

Another party, the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami party said Mr Sharif's decision to pull forces out of Kashmir earlier this year meant he had to go.

"He was an incapable and a corrupt leader. He mishandled the economy, acted like a dictator and blundered on Kashmir," a party official, Syed Munnawar Hassan said.

"The retreat was a setback for Pakistan, Kashmiris and the army of Pakistan. It was a betrayal of the Kashmir cause," he said.

Opposition parties in Pakistan recently joined forces in an attempt to force out the Sharif government.

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