"I assure all political parties that the elections will be fair, free and transparent. I appeal to them to accept this decision in the supreme national interest and participate fully."

Farooq also said that election offices in 11 districts of Sindh, Bhutto's ancestral home, were burned down.

Ballot boxes, voter screens, voter lists and other election materials were said to have been destroyed.

'Unfair delay'

Opposition parties including the PPP had earlier demanded that the elections not be deferred.

Farzana Raja, a spokeswoman for the PPP, said: "Whatever reasons they give, [they are] lame-duck excuses, because [while] electoral papers and lists were burnt in the districts, they have those lists in the central office."

"We reject their baseless excuses. We are ready to fight the election."

Shortly after the delay was announced, the party of Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, said it would participate in the polls.
 
Zaeem Qadri, a spokesman for Sharif, said: "Yes, we will certainly participate."

However, Raja Zafar ul-Haq, the chairman of Sharif's party, said that the delay was "unfair and not reasonable".

Scotland Yard probe

In a speech to the nation, Pervez Musharraf, the president, said the postponement of general elections was "unavoidable".

He said: "The postponement was unavoidable and the decision by the  election commission is correct."

He also said that a Scotland Yard forensic team from Britain would come "immediately" to Pakistan to help investigate the death of Bhutto.

Sohail Rahman, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Pakistan, said that questions remain in terms of the scope of the investigation.

He said: "The size of the team, and what evidence will be available to them, remains to be seen."

Rahman said a UN probe into Bhutto's killing, as demanded by Asif Zardari, Bhutto's husband, is unlikely since the Pakistani government has  not asked for it.