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Pakistan Fires Founder of Nuclear Weapons Program - 2004-01-31

Pakistan has dismissed the founder of the country's nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, as a special advisor to the prime minister. The decision comes Saturday during a meeting chaired by President Pervez Musharraf.

In an official statement, issued Saturday, the Pakistani government says that Mr. Abdul Qadir Khan, ceases to hold the office of special advisor to the prime minister on "Strategic Program". It says the decision was taken to facilitate investigations of alleged acts of nuclear proliferation in what it calls "a free and objective manner".

Pakistani authorities have detained and questioned nearly a dozen scientists and security officials in recent weeks to find out whether they leaked nuclear secrets to other countries. Five of them have been cleared and allowed to go home while the rest are still being interrogated. Government ministers say Mr. Khan has also been questioned but has not been detained.

Recent reports in local and Western media have quoted unnamed Pakistani officials as saying that Mr. Qadeer Khan is the prime suspect in the nuclear probe. But a top government minister told VOA this week on the record that Mr. Khan is not suspected of transferring nuclear technology to other countries.

Pakistan launched the investigation in November after the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency,in a letter, warned Islamabad of possible nuclear leaks to such countries as Libya and Iran. The letter mentioned the names of some Pakistani experts suspected of selling nuclear know-how for personal profit.

Mr. Qadeer Khan is a national hero for his contribution to the country's atomic-weapons development program. He headed Pakistan's top nuclear facility from 1976 until he retired in 2001 and was appointed as special advisor to the prime minister.

Pakistan says those found guilty of proliferating nuclear technology will be given harsh punishment as "enemies of the state".