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Commonwealth ministers discuss Pak suspension

world Updated: Nov 21, 2007 22:33 IST
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Commonwealth foreign ministers kicked off a meeting in Kampala on Wednesday to decide whether or not to suspend Pakistan from the organisation of mostly former British colonies.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II also arrived in Uganda to attend the summit, which starts in earnest on Friday, on her first visit to the East African country in more than half a century.

A decision on Pakistan's membership in the 53-state organisation was expected late on Thursday, even as Islamabad appeared to be rolling back on some of the measures that have garnered international condemnation.

Jail officials on Wednesday announced the release of hunger-striking cricket legend Imran Khan from prison, where he has been detained for the last week under anti-terrorism laws.

The country's attorney general stressed earlier that President Pervez Musharraf would hang up his military uniform within days if the Supreme Court rejected a final challenge to his re-election.

On Tuesday, Islamabad also released more than 3,400 people who had been detained under the emergency rule imposed by Musharraf almost three weeks ago.

The Commonwealth's rights body has urged the foreign ministers to suspend Pakistan's membership, arguing it had "no place in the Commonwealth" in the current circumstances.

But as the ministers assembled in the Ugandan capital for their two-day consultations, Pakistan warned against any "hasty" decision.

The Commonwealth "should have a short postponement of the decision and immediately send a delegation to Pakistan to look at the situation in the country," Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said.

Musharraf has come under intense international pressure to end the emergency rule, restore the judiciary's independence, cancel media restrictions and step down as army chief.

Pakistan was previously suspended from the organisation for five years following Musharraf's bloodless 1999 coup, but was then welcomed back into the fold on condition he take off his uniform.

Musharraf says that emergency rule is needed to combat increasingly powerful Islamic militants and on Wednesday he issued an ordinance preventing any legal challenge to the decree in court.

At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on the Mediterranean island of Malta in 2005, Musharraf was urged to step down as head of the armed forces by the end of his presidential term in 2007.

As well as Pakistan, the ministerial meeting was expected to discuss key trade issues and climate change. With thousands of delegates and hundreds of journalists, the summit is the largest event ever hosted by Uganda, which has given Kampala a 120-million-dollar facelift.

Potholes have been filled, a fresh coat of paint applied to many buildings, the country's hotel capacity more than doubled and Entebbe airport upgraded for Queen Elizabeth's first visit since Uganda's independence.

Upon landing, the 81-year-old monarch and her husband headed straight to state house to meet Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Due to arrive later are Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, amid growing speculation that the Commonwealth is preparing for life after Elizabeth, who has headed the organisation since her accession to the throne in 1952.