ISLAMABAD, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended Pakistan's constitution and deployed troops in the capital Saturday, declaring that rising Islamic extremism had forced him to take emergency measures.
Musharraf replaced the nation's chief justice and blacked out the independent media that refused to support him. Authorities began rounding up opposition politicians, cut phone lines in Islamabad and took all but state television off air.
The Bush administration said it was deeply disturbed by the state of emergency and urged a swift return to a democratic and civilian government. The Pentagon said Musharraf's declaration does not affect U.S. military support of Pakistan, a key U.S. partner in the fight against al-Qaida.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that "President Musharraf needs to stand by his pledges to have free and fair elections in January" and step down as army chief before taking the oath of office as president.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is taking the U.S. lead in dealing with the situation, said that, to her knowledge, administration officials had yet to hear from Musharraf since his declaration. U.S. leaders had privately and publicly urged him not to take authoritarian action.
"The U.S. has made clear it does not support extraconstitutional measures because those measures take Pakistan away from the path of democracy and civilian rule," Rice said after attending an Iraq neighbors conference in Istanbul. "Whatever happens, we will be urging a quick return to civilian rule."
The stakes are high, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates is closely monitoring the fast-developing situation, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.
"Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror," Morrell told reporters aboard Gates' plane as he traveled to China.
Musharraf's leadership is threatened by an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, the re-emergence of political rival and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and an Islamic movement that has spread to the capital. Analysts said the measures Saturday may only postpone his political demise.
In a televised address, Musharraf, looking somber and composed and wearing a black tunic rather than his usual military fatigues, said Pakistan was at a "dangerous" juncture.
"The extremism has even spread to Islamabad, and the extremists are taking the writ of the government in their own hands, and even worse they are imposing their obsolete ideas on moderates," he said.
Musharraf's order allows courts to function but suspends some fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, including freedom of speech. It also allows authorities to detain people without informing them of the charges.
Musharraf replaced the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry who had emerged as the main check on his power before a crucial Supreme Court ruling on his future as president. His emergency order accused some judges of "working at cross purposes with the executive" and "weakening the government's resolve" to fight terrorism.
He criticized the Supreme Court for failing to make a ruling yet on whether to validate his contentious victory in a presidential election and for punishing government officers, including police. He said this had left the government system "semi-paralyzed."
Seven of the 17 Supreme Court judges immediately rejected the emergency, which suspended the current constitution. Paramilitary troops blocked entry to the Supreme Court building and erected road blocks and barred access to the official residences of lawmakers and judges. They later took the deposed chief justice and other judges away in a convoy, witnesses said.
Musharraf said he hoped democracy would be restored following parliamentary elections.
"But, in my eyes, I say with sorrow that some elements are creating hurdles in the way of democracy," Musharraf said. "I think this chaos is being created for personal interests and to harm Pakistan."
Rick Barton, a Pakistan expert at the Washington-based Center for International and Strategic Studies, said Musharraf's move would likely only postpone his political downfall.
"He's obviously not very popular, and it's not going to increase his popularity," Barton said. "Unless he's develops a new line or is able to be more effective with his old line, he seems to be just buying time, an inevitable delay to his demise."
Pakistanis have increasingly turned against the government of Musharraf, who failed earlier this year to oust the chief justice replaced Saturday.
Bhutto, a longtime rival of Musharraf who recently returned from eight years of exile, said the emergency was the "blackest day" in Pakistan's history.
Seen by many supporters as key to a possible return to democracy, Bhutto flew back Saturday to the southern city of Karachi from Dubai, where she was visiting family. She had traveled abroad in the wake of an Oct. 18 suicide attack that narrowly missed her but killed 145 others.
After her arrival at Karachi's Airport, Bhutto said she did not believe there would be fair elections as long as emergency rule remained in place.
"I agree with him that we are facing a political crisis, but I believe the problem is dictatorship, I don't believe the solution is dictatorship," she told Sky News television by telephone.
Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister who was deported in September as he tried to return from exile, urged Pakistanis to rise against Musharraf.
Adm. William J. Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, met with Musharraf and other top generals on Friday to discuss the security situation in northwest Pakistan. But Fallon did not threaten to cut off U.S. military aid to the Pakistani government, Morrell said. And he said he has "no sense at this point that there is an imminent review" planned to look at whether aid should be affected.
The U.S. has been a leading supplier of military aid to Pakistan since it suspended sanctions on that country in recognition of its support for the war on terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. President Bush announced in 2002 that the U.S. would provide Pakistan with $3 billion in military and economic assistance over five years aid that began flowing in 2005, according to the State Department.
Just last month, Pakistani officials said the U.S. had given them 30 helicopters to help fight Islamic militants along the border with Afghanistan. Washington had placed sanctions on military assistance to Pakistan in 1990 after the discovery of its program to develop nuclear weapons.Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, claimed a sweeping victory in voting Oct. 6. He has pledged to quit the army before starting a new five-year term but declined on election night to say whether he would accept a negative verdict from the court.
Contributing: Ben Feller, Lolita C. Baldor, Zarar Khan, Sadaqat Jan, Munir Ahmad and Ashraf Khan