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Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 23:58 GMT 00:58 UK

World: South Asia

'Plot to kill' coup leader

Supporters of Mr Sharif in Lahore protested at the PM's dismissal

The Pakistani army has said it staged its lightning coup in order to prevent its leader, General Pervez Musharraf, from being assassinated.

Pakistan in crisis
A military spokesman said that shortly before the army launched the coup on Tuesday, there was a conspiracy to kill the general who was on board an aircraft returning from Sri Lanka.

Independent reports confirm that the plane on which General Musharraf was travelling was very low on fuel when it eventually managed to land.

Two days after the military seized power, pressure is growing at home and abroad for the army to outline its plans for a future government of Pakistan.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones: "The military said there was a plan to destroy the aircraft carrying the general"
The country still has no functioning administration, and General Musharraf has remained locked in talks with senior army commanders about how to install a successor to the elected administration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Sharif sacked the general while he was flying back from an official visit to Sri Lanka.

The BBC's Islamabad correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones says the government apparently attempted to divert General Musharraf's plane from its intended destination of Karachi to the rural airport of Nawabshah.

[ image: General Musharraf: Still no statement on country's future]
General Musharraf: Still no statement on country's future
When that attempt failed, the control tower at Karachi airport refused permission for the Pakistan International Airlines flight to land and civil aviation vehicles were used to block the runway.

Sources have told the BBC that the military became aware of what was happening and rushed to Karachi airport and allowed the plane to land.

When it did so, it had just six or seven minutes worth of fuel left on board.

The BBC's Ben Brown: "A show of strength in the very heart of Pakistan's democracy"
Military spokesman Brigadier Rashid Qureshi gave his interpretation of events, saying there was a plan to destroy the aircraft on which General Musharraf - and some 238 other passengers - were travelling.

Reports have said a top police official has been arrested for involvement in the alleged plot to "physically eliminate" General Musharraf.

The AFP news agency said Rana Maqbool, inspector-general of police in southern Sindh province, was picked up by paramilitary troops from his official residence in Karachi.

Political future

Amid growing uncertainty following the takeover, the military has indicated that it is still trying to install some kind of civil administration. Brigadier Qureshi said that democracy was still "intact" in Pakistan.

However there are doubts as to whether a scheduled meeting of parliament on Friday will go ahead as planned.

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge:"The army's control has gone seemingly unchallenged"
Workers at the parliament building were told to leave the premises, but there is as yet no official order to cancel the parliamentary session.

Many members of Mr Sharif's Muslim League party had said they would attend the Friday meeting of the National Assembly.

Senior Muslim League leader, Ejaz ul Haq, who is also the son of former President Zia-ul Haq, had demanded the party be allowed to elect a new leader in place of Mr Sharif.

Another prominent party member, Khurram Dastgir Khan, told BBC News Online that such a decision could only be made by a meeting of the party's highest decision making body.

[ image: People are still waiting to hear what has happened to Mr Sharif]
People are still waiting to hear what has happened to Mr Sharif
"Unless a meeting of the Central Working Committee [of the Muslim League] takes place, nothing can take place," he said.

Since martial law has not yet been declared, parliament continues to function and General Musharraf does not have legal cover for his military takeover.

US President Bill Clinton renewed his call on Thursday for a return to civilian rule.

He said: "I still believe Prime Minister Sharif did the right thing to take the Pakistani troops behind the Line of Control and defuse what could have turned into a war, even a nuclear exchange."

Pakistan and its neighbour India have been involved in a tense stand-off over the future of the disputed territories of Kashmir, and in 1998 engaged in a tit-for-tat series of tests of their nuclear capabilities.

President Clinton said: "I would hope that the military government will soon transition to a civilian one and that nothing would be done at this time to aggravate tensions between India and Pakistan."

Other related stories:

  • Politician tells of house arrest
  • Pakistan's generals do it by the book
  • Pakistan's coup: Why the army acted
  • Press urges return to democracy
  • Sharif's son voices safety fears
  • In pictures: Military takes over in Pakistan

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