Pakistan suspended from Commonwealth

A committee of foreign ministers voted Thursday to suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth over anti-democratic actions taken by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf during his emergency rule.

A committee of foreign ministers voted Thursday to suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth over anti-democratic actions taken by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf during his emergency rule.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives for a three-day Commonwealth summit in Uganda on Thursday. Later in the day, representatives from nine Commonwealth countries voted unanimously to suspend Pakistan. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

Representatives from nine Commonwealth countries, including Canada, voted unanimously to suspend Pakistan "from councils of the Commonwealth pending restoration of democracy and rule of law in the country," said Secretary-General Don McKinnon.

They had met Thursday in Kampala, Uganda, to decide on Pakistan's status at the start ofa three-day Commonwealth summit.

The group said Musharraf had failed to meet the 53-member organization's Commonwealth deadlines to resign as army chief, allow a free press, hold elections, and restore the power of his country's judiciary.

"It was not an easy thing to do," Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Helena Guergis said of the suspension.

"But in the end, we all believe we've all made the right decision — in support of democracy, in support of the people of Pakistan."

Guergis said Canada's position has been very clear that all members of the Commonwealth have an obligation to defend democracy.

"We adhere to and we support the principles of democracy and right now we have to uphold that," she said. "We have to stand behind that and we have to support that and Pakistan has not done that."

Pakistan — which was also suspended from the Commonwealth in 1999 after Musharraf came to power in a coup, butreinstated five years later—had pleaded for more timebefore the group'smeetingand argued that it was making progress toward restoring democracy.

But the Musharraf governmenthasfailed to meet any of the five criteria set out for it by the Commonwealth, said Helena Guergis, Canada's secretary of state forforeign affairs, who is accompanying Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the summit.

"We adhere to and we support the principles of democracy," Guergis told reporters as she enteredameeting."Right now, we have to uphold that. We have to stand behind that, and support that. Right now, Pakistan is not doing that."

The embattled Musharraf declared emergency rule on Nov. 3 in a move that effectively suspended the country'sconstitution and saw the detention or house arrest of thousands of opposition supporters and several high-profile politicians, including former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and retired cricket star Imran Khan.

Musharraf said the emergency rule was necessary to protect the country from the rising threat of extremists, but his opponents have accused him of cracking down to circumvent judiciary challenges tohisdual roleof president and army chief.

Judges clear obstacle to re-election

Earlier Thursday,Pakistan's Supreme Court, purged of Musharraf's judicial adversaries and stacked with loyal judges,cleared the final legal obstacle to Musharraf's re-election to another five-year presidential term.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters that Musharraf had assured him on Wednesday that he was moving to meet international concerns.

"He has assured me that he will do his utmost to lift the state of emergency in time for free and fair elections to be held and to give up his military rule and responsibilities as soon as possible," Brown said.

Musharraf has given no timeline for his plans to step down as army chief but his aides say that could happen as early as Saturday.

The Commonwealth isa voluntary organization mostly composed of former British colonies.

After the meeting, Harper will head to Tanzania for a one-day visit before returning home early Tuesday.

With files from the Canadian Press