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Commonwealth Suspends Pakistan for Imposing Emergency Rule

The Commonwealth has suspended Pakistan, after President Pervez Musharraf failed to meet a deadline to lift emergency rule and resign as army chief. Malcolm Webb reports for VOA from Kampala, where the decision was taken on the eve of the group's summit.

The 53-member Commonwealth announced last week that President Musharraf had until Thursday to lift the state of emergency he imposed on November third.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, known as CMAG, decided that recent steps, such as the release of hundreds of prisoners in recent days, are not enough. Security forces continue to enforce strict emergency laws.

Speaking to the press in Kampala, Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon noted that Pakistan was suspended before, in 1999, after General Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup. McKinnon said Pakistan had lost substantial benefits of Commonwealth membership.

"We did suspend Pakistan back in 1999," said Don McKinnon. "They ceased to get general assistance from the Commonwealth. They weren't able to attend meetings, which to that point they did enjoy being at. They can be very influential in Commonwealth ministerial meetings all around the Commonwealth. By and large, within a year of that suspension, they were very keen to come back to the Commonwealth. So, they clearly did appreciate the benefits of membership, used the benefits of membership to the full. That is now once again lost to them."

CMAG re-admitted Pakistan in 2004 after the Commonwealth recognized that democratic progress had been made.

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband, speaking in Kampala, said the decision was unanimous. He expressed optimism for democratic progress and re-admission of Pakistan.

"This decision was taken in sorrow, not in anger," said David Milliband. "You will see very practical steps that the Commonwealth is determined to take to reach out to Pakistan, including the possibility of a CMAG mission to Pakistan. We're all clear that the choices are for Pakistan now to make the changes that are in its interest, nationally and internationally, and then to re-enter the Commonwealth as a proud and valued member."

CMAG was established in 1995 to deal with violations of Commonwealth rules on democracy. It has nine members, including Papua New Guinea, Malta, Lesotho, Malaysia, St. Lucia and the United Kingdom.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting officially opens with a ceremony in Kampala Friday, without any representation from Pakistan.