Secretary of State Rice Urges Pakistan's Musharraf to Cut Army Affiliation, Restore Democracy

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf should cut his affiliation with the army and restore civilian rule.

At a news conference, Rice urged Musharraf to follow through on past promises to "take off his uniform."

"I want to be very clear. We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections," she said.

"The more quickly and the more urgently that the Pakistani leadership and President Musharraf act on their stated desire to get back to a constitutional path, it will be for the better of everyone," she said.

Over the weekend, Musharraf announced he would suspend his country's constitution, oust the country's top judge and deploy troops to fight what he called rising Islamic extremism.

In Pakistan on Monday, legions of baton-wielding police clashed with lawyers to squash protests against Musharraf on Monday, while international pressure mounted against the imposition of emergency powers that have led to more than 1,500 arrests.

Rice said Sunday the U.S. would review aid to Pakistan. But on a Mideast trip overshadowed by the unfolding crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan, Rice indicated the U.S. would not suspend aid wholesale.

The U.S. has provided about US$11 billion (euro7.6 billion) to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf allied his presidency with Washington after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Bush, who has received steady updates on developments in Pakistan, was likely to make his first public comments later Monday.

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