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By Kay Johnson

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's government said on Monday it was seeking to amend the constitution to keep special military courts for civilians charged with terrorism, days after the mandate expired for the secret courts that had been accused of fostering rights abuses.

It was unclear how long an extension the government was seeking for the military tribunals, which proponents said were necessary because of an inefficient civilian judiciary.

A statement from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office said the military courts "have played an extremely important role at a very crucial juncture".

It said the government had begun talks aimed at amending the Constitution again to continue the military trials, which are held in secret, "for a period which is agreed by all political parties represented in the Parliament".

The decision came after a high-level meeting on foreign police and security attended by Sharif, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan and new army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, it said.

The main opposition parties had no immediate response on Monday. Their support would be needed to pass a second constitutional amendment

The military courts were set up by parliament in early 2015 in response to an attack by Pakistani Taliban fighters on a military-run school that killed 134 children.

Lawmakers at the time inserted an expiry clause, which ended the courts' mandate on Saturday.

The amendment was criticized for handing significant judicial control to the powerful military, which has ruled the country of 190 million people for about half of its existence.

Lawmakers and the military argued that civilian courts were too slow for terrorism cases needed to be dealt with swiftly, since many judges, fearful of revenge, were reluctant to deliver verdicts.

A total of 275 cases have been referred to the military courts and 12 convicts executed over two years, the interior ministry says. The tribunals have sentenced 161 people to death and handed jail terms, mostly life sentences, to 116 people.

At least 27 convicts filed appeals with civilian courts, alleging coercion of confessions and denial of access to lawyers and evidence, Reuters research and media reports show.

(Writing by Kay Johnson)

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