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Ex-Pakistan Nuclear Chief Seeks Clemency After Admitting He Shared Weapons Secrets - 2004-02-04

The former head of Pakistan's nuclear program has asked for clemency after taking responsibility for leaking nuclear weapons secrets to three nations. Pakistan's state-run television says Abdul Qadeer Khan made his appeal in a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf.

The head of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, described his meeting with President Pervez Musharraf as cordial. He told Pakistani state television that he hopes Mr. Musharraf will help put the nuclear scandal to rest.

"He will discuss with the cabinet, with the prime minister and other colleagues," said Mr. Khan. "And then he will take a decision how to proceed about it, how to close this matter."

Officials say Mr. Qadeer Khan took full responsibility for his role in leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. In the meeting with President Musharraf, he asked for clemency.

Many in Pakistan have considered Mr. Qadeer Khan a national hero since 1998, when the country became the first Islamic nation to successfully test a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Musharraf opened the controversial investigation into the nuclear program two-months ago. There is no word on whether Mr. Khan's appeal for clemency will be granted, or whether he and several co-workers implicated in the scandal will face trial.

Mr. Qadeer Khan was removed from his job as a government adviser on Saturday, after he reportedly confessed to leaking information on uranium enrichment technology. He has been held under house arrest since then.

But the controversy has not tainted Mr. Qadeer Khan alone. Many question whether President Musharraf was involved in the nuclear leaks. An army general, President Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999. Critics charge that the president had to be aware of - and perhaps approved - the transfer of nuclear technology in the 1990's.

Government officials have dismissed that charge. Mr. Qadeer Khan reportedly has said he acted on his own.

The controversy erupted in November when the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency warned President Musharraf in a letter that nuclear technology had been transferred out of the country.

The scandal shows no signs of abating. Opposition parties have called for a national strike on Friday, to protest the government's treatment of Mr. Qadeer Khan.