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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Seizes All Power in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani troops took over state-run television and radio stations throughout the country Tuesday, closed major airports and announced that the prime minister and his government had been removed.

A message scrolled across the television screen said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government had been ousted. Troops cordoned off the prime minister in his residence in Islamabad, took over the houses of several other top ministers and seized other government buildings.

Army chief General Pervaiz Musharraf seemed to be leading the coup. He had been fired by Sharif on Tuesday while on a visit to Sri Lanka - but he flew back to Pakistan and was met by a large contingent of soldiers at the airport in the southern city of Karachi, just hours before troops began seizing buildings in Islamabad.

A rift between Sharif and General Musharraf developed after the prime minister ordered militants to withdraw this summer from Indian territory in the Kargil region of Kashmir, ending a bitter two-month border dispute with India.

Many feared that border dispute would escalate into an all-out war between India and Pakistan - two countries with a long history of enmity, and who both recently made clear they are armed with nuclear weapons.

The withdrawal was negotiated between Sharif and U.S. President Bill Clinton, but it reportedly did not have the support of the Pakistan army chief, who many Western analysts say orchestrated the takeover of Indian territory in Kargil.

At the prospect of General Musharraf running Islamabad, India's army went on a state of high alert along the Indian-Pakistan border, and in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee held a crisis meeting with his top security and foreign policy advisers.

Governments around the world expressed alarm at the coup.

"We would obviously seek the earliest possible restoration of democracy in Pakistan,'' said U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin.

General Musharraf was expected to address Pakistan in a televised speech Tuesday night.

The turmoil came as Pakistan, weakened by U.S.-led economic sanctions following its nuclear weapons tests last year, is torn by sectarian bloodshed between the majority Sunni and minority Shi'ite Moslems and regional rivalry between Punjabis and Sindis.

Marshall Bouton of the Asia Society in New York said veterans of the Afghan guerrilla war and their supporters were increasingly powerful in northern Pakistan and a seizure of power by radical Islamic elements was a "worst case scenario" that could not be ruled out.

Bouton said the military intervention raised the risk of a split in the army and could open the way for a substantial faction "inclined to support a fundamentalist Islamic regime in Pakistan."

Gerald Segal, an Asia-watcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said a military coup would be almost "business as usual" in Pakistan, where the army has intervened frequently in political life.

"This has never been a stable country, and the role of the armed forces has always been crucial in maintaining a sense of order and stability, of holding the ring," Segal told Reuters Television.

The risk was that the armed forces might split into rival factions, Segal said, in which case "there is more than enough tinder of a political and social nature in this country to split it apart."

Exiled Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto blamed Prime Minister Sharif for provoking the coup against his own government. Bhutto said Sharif had sought to politicize the army and the army had therefore risen against him.

"Ever since Nawaz Sharif took over he sought to dismantle democracy," said Bhutto, who is in London. She faces arrest if she returns home, as she has been convicted by a Pakistan court of corruption. Bhutto told the BBC that Pakistanis believe Sharif is turning the country into a "police state."