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Pakistan's Musharraf Declares State of Emergency, Suspends Constitution

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has declared a state of emergency, largely blaming the country's judiciary for a series of decisions that he says have undermined the government. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

Pakistan's official State television announced the state of emergency Saturday evening, hours after independent news channels reported a declaration was imminent.

A broadcaster for the state television read a brief statement attributed to the chief of army staff, which is the other office President Musharraf holds. He said the chief of the army staff has imposed a state of emergency and issued a provisional constitution.

Officials cut phone lines and shut down broadcasts of independent and foreign news channels. State television remains on the air.

Security forces have sealed off key roads in front of government buildings, but much of the capital city remains normal with people going to restaurants and shops.

In front of the President's House, a small group of protesters gathered at the police barriers to denounce president Musharraf. "Go Musharraf Go, Go Musharraf Go," they shouted.

A text of the proclamation of emergency largely blamed the country's judiciary for allegedly weakening the government's ability to fight terrorism. It also blamed militants for a series of attacks that pose what it called a grave threat to the citizens of Pakistan.

Following the declaration of emergency, officials said President Musharraf swore in a new chief justice of the supreme court, a judge named Abdul Hamid Dogar. The former chief justice, Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry, was a fierce critic of President Musharraf, who had unsuccessfully tried to remove the justice from his office in March.

The Supreme Court has been deliberating several high-profile political cases, including a challenge to President Musharraf's unofficial re-election last month.

Aitzaz Ahsan, the President of Pakistan's Bar Association, told independent television station Dawn news that not only was Mr. Musharraf's re-election beyond the constitution, so was the declaration of emergency. "He is the disqualified person who is trying to take this country hostage by resorting to extra constitutional measures," said Ahsan, who later called for protests against the government and was detained by police.

The U.S. State Department said it was deeply disturbed by the state of emergency, and urged Mr. Musharraf to hold national elections on schedule in January.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has also demanded the elections move forward as planned.