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Ousted Pakistan party eyes post-coup future

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    Ousted Pakistan party eyes post-coup future

    ISLAMABAD, Oct 21 - Leaders of Pakistan's former ruling party met on Thursday to discuss whether to work with the generals who ended its 31-month rule in a military coup this month.

    Places in a cabinet of technocrats could be at stake for the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) whose torch bearer, Nawaz Sharif, was deposed as prime minister and detained pending an investigation into allegations of corruption.

    With most members of Sharif's ousted cabinet under house arrest and silent, the party talks grouped top figures who had escaped an anti-corruption drive by the 10-day-old military regime of coup leader General Pervez Musharraf.

    Some key PML members, including former Religious Affairs Minister and Senior Vice-President Ejaz-ul-Haq, have already publicly distanced themselves from Sharif, thought to be under house arrest in his native Lahore or near Islamabad.

    But party officials said the informal Islamabad gathering would not discuss dropping Sharif from the PML.

    It would review the military's national agenda, spelt out by Musharraf in a Sunday night broadcast, and plot its next step.

    CABINET OF TECHNOCRATS

    The PML talks followed a Thursday meeting in Lahore of the Grand Democratic Alliance, a 19-party opposition umbrella which clamoured for Sharif to step down for "incompetence" in the weeks that preceded Musharraf's October 12 takeover.

    The alliance endorsed the ouster of Sharif and said it would also support the seven-point agenda of political and economic reforms announced by Musharraf.

    Musharraf has pledged an eventual return to democratic rule with no time frame and is reported by aides to be selecting figures for a National Security Council to run the country with a cabinet of technocrats to function alongside it.

    He promised to induct clean professionals, chosen on merit, to work in the council and the cabinet and to set up a think tank to assist the new rulers.

    Musharraf also pledged a crackdown on corruption which has seeped into almost every aspect of Pakistani life. Investigations against several former ruling party members have been initiated though no formal charges have been laid.

    Human rights group Amnesty International urged Musharraf on Thursday to charge and give fair trials to members of the ousted government or immediately release them.

    The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a separate statement asked the military authorities to ensure that Sharif, his brother and other members of the former government were not being harassed and had access to lawyers and family.


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