New Delhi: Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution, sacked 17 Supreme Court judges and told the nation his move was to "protect integrity of Pakistan".
"The Chief of the Army Staff (General Musharraf) has proclaimed state of emergency and issued provisional constitutional order," a brief announcement on state-owned Pakistan Television (PTV) said at 6.10 pm Pakistan time without giving any details.
Under the order, the constitution remains suspended, the federal cabinet ceases to exist and judges will have to take oath afresh.
"We are at a grave stage in our history and have to take concrete steps to protect the integrity of Pakistan," Musharraf said in a late night broadcast to the nation on PTV.
General sacks Chief Justice
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and seven other Supreme Court judges were taken into custody after they termed the provisional constitution illegal. Troops took them away to an undisclosed location.
''We feel that government has not ground/reason to take extra constitutional steps, particularly for the reasons being published in the newspapers that a high profile case is pending and is not likely to be decided in favor of the government,'' the judges said in a two-page ruling.
All the 17 Supreme Court judges were given individual letters saying their services were "no longer required", even as Abdul Hameed Dogar was sworn in as the new chief justice along with five other judges.
Dogar was one of the judges of the Supreme Court who had heard a petition challenging the continuance of Chaudhary as Chief Justice. He is among four judges who took oath under the provisional constitutional order.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether he was eligible to run for re-election last month while still army chief
Private television channels are off air in Islamabad. Reports say barriers and barbed wires have come up at important points in Islamabad.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether he was eligible to run for re-election last month while still army chief.
Army pickets have also sprung up in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province that borders Afghanistan.
A senior security official told Reuters that Musharraf would seek approval for the move from the cabinet later, after which there were expectations he would address the nation.
Sung by criticism it was adding to a sense of instability, the Supreme Court said on Friday it would reconvene on Monday and try to finish the case quickly, having earlier said it would take a break until November 12 -- just three days before Musharraf's current term is due to expire.
Earlier Attorney General Malik Qayyum told the court that there was no move by the government to impose martial law.
About 139 people were killed on October 19 by an attempted suicide bomb assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto during a procession through Karachi when she returned from eight years of self-imposed exile.
Before the announcement on emergency rule, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had told journalists travelling with her to Turkey that Washington opposed any authoritarian measures and wanted elections to go ahead. "I think it would be quite obvious that the United States would not be supportive of extra-constitutional means," Rice said.
(With Reuters, AP, IANS)