VARIOUS: Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz says government committed to holding elections, Benazir Bhutto...
- Title: VARIOUS: Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz says government committed to holding elections, Benazir Bhutto says democracy is way to achieve moderate Pakistan
- Date: 4th November 2007
- Summary: (BN04) KARACHI, PAKISTAN (NOVEMBER 4, 2007) (REUTERS) HIGH VIEW OF STREET SCENE
- Reuters ID: LVA2N35G62CON7FH5LY286VOM5JU
- Duration: 00:00:06
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- Topics: International Relations,Domestic Politics
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- Story Text: Pakistan's government is committed to holding national elections but is undecided when, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on Sunday (November 4), a day after emergency rule was imposed to deal with rising militancy and a hostile judiciary.
Pakistan had been due to hold a general election by January, but military ruler President Pervez Musharraf's decision to impose emergency rule and suspend the constitution has left Pakistan in limbo and drawn criticism from the international community.
"We are committed to making sure that elections are held and that the democratic process flourishes in Pakistan," Aziz told a news conference. "As a result of what has happened there could be some timing differences but no decision has been made."
He said the emergency, which Musharraf imposed as he was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on whether his October re-election bid while army chief would stand, would last for as short as feasible and as long as necessary.
Musharraf has since purged the court, and dismissed the Chief Justice with whom he had locked horns.
Prime Minister Aziz said 400-500 people were being held under preventive detention after the government rounded up political opponents and opposition lawyers -- including a leader of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's party. Police also placed cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan under house arrest but he escaped later.
Musharraf won an Oct. 6 re-election vote by parliament, but the Supreme Court had stopped the election commission from notifying the result until it had ruled on challenges to Musharraf's election while still army chief.
Musharraf had promised to stand down as army chief if he was re-elected.
The court decision was expected next week and there was strong speculation that Musharraf declared emergency rule to pre-empt a possible adverse ruling, and so hold on to power.
Pakistan's English-language newspapers have been unforgiving of the draconian measures that included a ban on any coverage "that defames, and brings into ridicule or disrepute the head of state" on pain of up to three years' jail.
"General Musharraf's second coup," was Dawn's headline.
"It is martial law," the Daily Times splashed across its front page.
"He has sent the country into a tailspin just to save his job," the Nation said in an editorial.
There were no troops or large numbers of police on the streets of the capital, or the other main cities, Karachi, Lahore or Peshawar.
But barricades blocked the main boulevard leading to the presidency building in Islamabad.
Attention has now turned to what former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the country's most potent politician, might do next.
Bhutto, who ended eight years of self-imposed exile last month with Musharraf's blessing, returned to Karachi on Saturday (November 4) evening after a short trip to Dubai and took a strong stand against what she called a "mini-martial" law.
In a telephone interview from her home in Karachi, she called on the President to step down as army chief: "I would certainly stress upon him the importance to restore the constitution, to keep his promise to step aside as army chief and to establish an independent election commission under which free elections could be held," she said.
"Pakistan needs democracy and Pakistan needs moderation. If General Musharraf is committed to a moderate Pakistan, I believe the solution lies in democracy, not in strengthening dictatorship," Bhutto stressed.
Commentators say the litmus test will be whether she calls for street protests and risks arrest herself or seeks to persuade Musharraf in person to reverse his decision.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has appealed for restraint on all sides and said Musharraf must affirm that elections will take place.
"The United States does not support, and communicated it to the Pakistani leadership prior to this action, that it would not support extra constitutional means. I think the issue now is that it is in the best interest of Pakistan and the best interest of the Pakistani people for there to be a prompt return to a constitutional course, for there to be an affirmation that elections will be held for a new parliament, and for all parties to act with restraint in what is obviously a very difficult situation."
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- Embargoed:19th November 2007 12:00