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Commonwealth ministers considering sanctions against Pakistan's emergensy

Pakistan could be suspended from the Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies if it doesn’t lift its nine-day-old state of emergency.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action group was meeting to consider options ranging from a deadline for the lifting of emergency measures to suspension of Pakistan from the 53-nation alliance.

"Suspension is one of the possibilities, but there are other sanctions that are possible," said Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo, who chairs the action group. "We will look at all the options and choose the one that best expresses the principles of the Commonwealth."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said last week that the Commonwealth should consider suspension if Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, does not lift emergency measures. Canada's foreign minister, Maxime Bernier, has called for "clear deadlines" for an end to emergency rule.

British officials said, however, that a decision at Monday's meeting was unlikely, with any action deferred to a Nov. 23-25 meeting of Commonwealth heads of government in Kampala, Uganda.

Musharraf suspended Pakistan's constitution and imposed emergency rule on Nov. 3, citing a rising threat from Islamic extremists. Opponents allege that the move, which came before a Supreme Court ruling that could have quashed his plans to serve another five-year term, was motivated by his own determination to stay in power.

Musharraf said Sunday that parliamentary elections scheduled for January would be held, but set no time limit on emergency rule, which has resulted in the arrests of thousands of his critics, a ban on rallies and the blacking out of independent TV networks.

"It's vital that the constitution is restored and other restrictions are lifted immediately," said Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman, Michael Ellam. "Without this we seriously doubt whether elections could be held under free and fair conditions."

The Commonwealth's powers of persuasion are limited, and suspension is its ultimate sanction. Pakistan was suspended in 1999 after Musharraf took power in a military coup, but restored in 2004 after he promised to step down as military chief - something he has yet to do.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002 because of widespread human rights abuses under President Robert Mugabe and withdrew from the grouping the next year. Fiji was suspended last December, for a third time in 20 years, after a military coup.

The action group includes ministers from Britain, Canada, Malta, Lesotho, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, St. Lucia, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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