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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK

World: South Asia

Sharif meeting vetoed

Mr Axworthy met Mr Sharif's party members, but not the deposed prime minister.

Pakistan's army ruler has vetoed a face-to-face meeting between Commonwealth foreign ministers and the deposed Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan in crisis
The delegation was granted permission to talk to Mr Sharif by telephone, but was unable to reach him.

They were told that he did not want to talk on the phone.

BBC correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones says that presumably he would have preferred a face-to-face meeting.

Lloyd Axworthy: "There's some willingness to look at the move from a military regime to a civilian democratic one"
The delegation was clearly irritated at being unable to contact Mr Sharif, who has been under house arrest since the coup on 12 October.

The delegation leader, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, said they had been unable to obtain "direct verification of his health and legal status."

Decision in two weeks

The Commonwealth ministers have been in Pakistan to investigate whether to permanently suspend the country's membership following this month's military take-over.

[ image:  ]
Pakistan was temporarily suspended form the 54-member organisation following the coup lead by General Pervez Musharraf.

The delegation had been seeking a commitment from Pakistan to restore civilian rule.

But General Musharraf said he could not give any assurance as to when democracy would return.

He said his priorities were stabilising the economy, strengthening the Pakistani Federation and introducing "certain electoral reforms".

Mr Axworthy said a timetable for democracy would have helped avert full suspension, but indicated that it was by no means a foregone conclusion.

The delegation will report back to a Commonwealth summit in South Africa in two weeks.

No contact

The BBC's Stephen Cole talks to Hasan Sharif
Mr Sharif's son, Hasan, who is in London has told the BBC that he has not spoken to his father since the coup.

"I don't know where my father is being kept."

[ image: Nawaz Sharif's son is concerned for his father's safety.]
Nawaz Sharif's son is concerned for his father's safety.
He said his mother was in Lahore, also under house arrest.

"They are not letting my mother go anywhere or to talk to anybody, and still the telephone lines are suspended."

Mr Sharif hinted that he feared for his father's safety.

"The Commonwealth has been denied to speak to my father in person. Is there any valid reason for that, why they have not been granted an audience in person with my father?"

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