Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has decided to impose emergency rule, state-run television said on Saturday, in a move expected to put off elections due in January.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan's internal security has deteriorated sharply in the past few months with a wave of suicide attacks by al Qaeda-inspired militants, including one last month that killed 139 people.
A senior security official told Reuters that Musharraf would seek approval for the move from the cabinet later, after which there were expectations he would address the nation.
The cabinet was due to start meeting at 7 pm.
Witnesses said paramilitary troops were deployed at state-run Pakistan Television and radio stations ahead of the announcement, which follows weeks of speculation that U.S. ally Musharraf might impose emergency rule or martial law.
Pakistan Television said General Musharraf, who is also chief of army staff, had issued a provisional constitutional order declaring an emergency.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether he was eligible to run for re-election last month while still army chief.
Stung by criticism it was adding to a sense of instability, the court said on Friday it would reconvene on Monday and try to finish the case quickly, having earlier said it would take a break until November 12 -- just three days before Musharraf's current term is due to expire.
NOT PLEASANT NEWS
About 139 people were killed on Oct 19 by an attempted suicide bomb assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto during a procession through Karachi when she returned from eight years of self-imposed exile.
Before the announcement on emergency rule, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had told journalists traveling with her to Turkey that Washington opposed any authoritarian measures and wanted elections to go ahead.
I think it would be quite obvious that the United States would not be supportive of extra-constitutional means, Rice said. Pakistan needs to prepare for and hold free and fair elections.
Musharraf had said he would quit as army chief if he was
given a second term, and he had allowed Bhutto back into Pakistan to lead her party into the national elections.
Bhutto left for Dubai on Thursday.
She was not immediately available for comment, but her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, said: It's definitely not pleasant news, it's not welcome news...We're hoping to build institutions, not destroy them.