Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Friday he planned to make Islam the supreme law, a move critics suggested was aimed at diverting attention from the country's political and economic woes.

The proposal, which will please fundamentalist religious parties, comes a week after the United States caused outrage in Pakistan by conducting missile attacks on suspected terrorist targets in neighboring Afghanistan and fellow Islamic Sudan.Sharif told parliament that a constitutional amendment would establish the predominance of the Koran, the sacred book of Moslems, and Sunnah, the sayings of the prophet Mohammad.

"I declare that Koran and Sunnah are being made the supreme law of the country," he said in a speech to the National Assembly (lower house).

But Sharif said the amendment would protect the "personal" (civil) law and religious freedom of non-Muslim minorities in the country, where the existing legal system is a mixture of Islamic law and British jurisprudence.

"The holy Koran and Sunnah of the holy prophet . . . shall be the supreme law of Pakistan," the draft bill says.

This is the second time Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League heads a coalition with a comfortable majority, has tried to make the Islamic Shari`a code the supreme law.

He declared Shari`a supreme law during his first tenure as prime minister in 1991. But the law, which was passed by parliament and did not change the constitution, was softened because of opposition objections.

A constitutional amendment needs a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which Sharif has in the 216-seat National Assembly but the position is unclear in the 87-seat Senate (upper house) after the recent desertion of some of his regional allies.

Political rivals derided Sharif's latest efforts to enhance the status of Shari`a.

"This is a cheap popularity measure like what . . . (late military ruler General Mohammad) Zia-ul-Haq did to extend his rule," deputy opposition leader in the National Assembly, Khurshid Ali Shah told reporters after Sharif's speech.