ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – World leaders called Sunday for a swift return to a constitutional government in Pakistan and said military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency was a setback for democracy.
Asia's two largest countries, however, reacted with restraint. China said it was confident Pakistan could solve its own problems, while longtime rival India tempered its response to keep tensions low, saying it regretted Pakistan's "difficult times."
On Saturday, Musharraf suspended the constitution ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on his future as president. He also replaced the chief justice, curtailed the media, banned public gatherings and rounded up opposition leaders.
Japan, which recently halted a six-year anti-terrorism mission in the Indian Ocean, said Musharraf's actions hindered the establishment of democracy.
"Japan has constantly supported Pakistan's war on terror and its efforts to establish democracy. Japan strongly hopes that Pakistan will soon restore normalcy and return to the process of democratization," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also called for a rapid return to constitutional rule.
"Pakistan faces difficult security circumstances and a number of serious challenges to its stability. Australia's strong view remains, however, that democracy and the rule of law are an essential part of achieving peace and stability," he said in a statement Sunday.
France expressed its "worry" over the developments and also urged a return to "the regular functioning of the institutions and the maintenance of a constitutional state."
France hopes "a dialogue between all Pakistani political forces can guarantee stability and democracy," its Foreign Ministry said.
The United States, which has cast Musharraf as a key ally in its global fight against terrorism, said it was deeply disturbed by the moves.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Jerusalem at the start of two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, said she has not spoken to Musharraf since he imposed the state of emergency.
"I just want to repeat that the United States does not support, and indicated to the Pakistani leadership prior to this action that it would not support, extraconstitutional means," she said.
"The issue now is it's in the best interest of Pakistan and the best interest of the Pakistani people for there to be a prompt return to the constitutional force, for there to be affirmation that elections will be held for a new Parliament," she said.
Musharraf's move was seen as a battle lost by the Bush administration, which has tried to halt any move toward authoritarianism in Pakistan.
The European Union urged the Pakistani leader to hold parliamentary elections early next year.
""Pakistan needs a rapid return to democracy," said EU spokesman Alain Bloedt.
British officials called the state of emergency a major setback for Pakistani democracy.
"We recognize the threat to peace and security faced by the country, but its future rests on harnessing the power of democracy and the rule of law to achieve the goals of stability, development and countering terrorism," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement.
The Commonwealth, the 53-member grouping of Britain and former British colonies, also condemned Musharraf's decision, calling it "a matter of deep concern."
"It is a step in the wrong direction," said Secretary-General Don McKinnon.
India issued a conciliatory response, although it has perhaps the most at stake if Pakistan descends into chaos. Pakistan and India have fought three wars against one another and still have a tense relationship, though relations have improved in recent years.
"We regret the difficult times that Pakistan is passing through," Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said. "We trust that conditions of normalcy will soon return permitting Pakistan's transition to stability and democracy to continue."
China, one of Pakistan's closest allies and a major source of investment, trade, and armaments, signaled its preference for behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
"We believe the Pakistani government and people have the ability to solve its own problem," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement.
But he added, "We hope Pakistan maintains stability and development."