Pakistan Rejects IAEA Chief's Worries Over Nuclear Arsenal

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan angrily rejected on Thursday remarks by the UN nuclear watchdog chief that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of Islamist militants.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, expressed his fears about Pakistan's nuclear weapons in an interview with the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.

His comments were widely reported in Pakistani newspapers Wednesday and follow similar concerns raised by some U.S. nuclear experts and politicians as militant violence and political turmoil rock the government of President Pervez Musharraf.

But the Pakistani Foreign Ministry dismissed ElBaradei's remarks as "unwarranted and irresponsible".

"Pakistan rejects the statement by Dr. ElBaradei," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said.

"As head of the IAEA, which is a UN body, he has to be careful about his statements, which ought to remain within the parameters of his mandate."

Deteriorating security in the country, particularly after last month's assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, has raised international concern about the safety of its nuclear weapons.

Some security experts fear that nuclear materials could fall into the hands of Islamist militants if the country descended into chaos.

"I fear that chaos ... or an extremist regime could take root in that country which has 30 to 40 warheads," ElBaradei was quoted as saying in the interview.

n Benazir Bhutto's political party claimed Wednesday that authorities were carrying out a massive crackdown on its supporters to stop them from taking part in next month's elections, The Associated Press reported.

The government in Bhutto's home province of Sindh denied that her party had been targeted, but said around 1,000 people had been arrested on a range of charges stemming from rioting that broke out after her Dec. 27 assassination, which left 60 people dead.