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IN THE NEWS - Pakistani Nuclear Scientist Pardoned - 2004-02-07

Broadcast: February 7, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

Debate continues in Pakistan over the decision to pardon nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Mister Khan admitted Wednesday that he sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. He spoke on national television.

On Thurday, President Pervez Musharraf pardoned Mister Khan with support from the cabinet. And on Friday Islamic opposition parties held demonstrations in several cities in support of the scientist. But other opposition parties demanded a parliamentary investigation.

Mister Khan is considered a national hero. He is known as the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program.

In his statement, Mister Khan accepted full responsibility for spreading weapons technology to other countries. He said he acted alone, without government knowledge. He apologized and asked forgiveness. Mister Khan had met earlier Wednesday with Mister Musharraf to request a pardon.

Critics say Mister Khan could not have sold nuclear secrets without the knowledge of military officials. General Musharraf denies that. He says he pardoned Mister Khan because the scientist has done much for national security. The president says Pakistan now has controls to stop the spread of nuclear technology.

Pakistani officials carried out a two-month investigation. They had received evidence late last year from the International Atomic Energy Agency, part of the United Nations. The evidence showed that Pakistani scientists had provided technology to Iran that could be used to make nuclear bombs. The evidence was based on statements made by Iran to the U-N agency.

In addition, Pakistan heard American concerns that North Korea had gotten help from Pakistani scientists. Finally, Libya's leader admitted in December that his country had a nuclear weapons program.

Mister Khan has said he acted out of a desire to remove Western attention from the Pakistani nuclear program. But President Musharraf says the scientist did it for money. Pakistani officials say Mister Khan received millions of dollars over a period of years. They say he bought homes in Pakistan and other countries and put money into foreign banks.

Two weeks ago, the Pakistani government had promised to take legal action against anyone caught selling nuclear secrets. Several scientists and other officials have been under investigation. But religious groups strongly opposed punishment for Mister Khan.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says the problem does not end with Mister Khan. But President Musharraf says he will not permit international supervision of the Pakistani nuclear program.

The United States said it would not judge the decision to pardon Mister Khan. It said what is more important is to make sure no more nuclear secrets leave Pakistan.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.