Musharraf sets February poll date

Pakistan president sets election deadline even as police detain opposition workers.

Police have forcibly surpressed anti-Musharraf protests [AFP]
Police have forcibly surpressed anti-Musharraf protests [AFP]
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“Having calculated all this, we must hold elections before 15th of February 2008,” he said.
“I have been saying for the last few months that elections will be held on schedule. There is no doubt in my mind that elections should be held on time as soon as possible… It was my commitment and I am fulfilling it.”
The United States welcomed Musharraf’s promise to hold elections by a fixed date.
“We think it is a good thing that President Musharraf has clarified the election date for the Pakistani people,” Dana Perino, White House spokeswoman, said.
However, Sean McCormack, spokesman for the US state department, said that while the fixing of a date was “positive”, Musharraf must take “other important steps… to return to the pathway of democracy and constitutional rule.” 

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Hundreds of supporters of Benazir Bhutto have meanwhile been detained after the former prime minister called for protests against the state of emergency imposed in Pakistan.

At least 800 supporters were detained in the province of Punjab, Bhuttos’ political stronghold, Jamil Soomro, Bhutto’s spokesman, said.
“Police have launched a crackdown against our party workers at village, town and city level,” he told the AFP news agency.
Other officials of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said thousands have been arrested across the country.
“Well over 600 party activists have been arrested and many of our leaders have gone underground. The crackdown is continuing,” Raza Rabbani, a senior party leader, said.
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Kamal Hyder’s report

Police sources confirmed the arrests of only 140 PPP workers.

Meanwhile a court in Karachi has charged three politicians and a trade union leader with treason for condemning Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule, court officials said.
The four were remanded in custody for two weeks, two days after they were arrested for reportedly criticising Musharraf in addresses at the city’s press club, the officials added.
Treason, or sedition, can lead to the death penalty in Pakistan.
Mass march planned
The PPP is planning to hold a public meeting in Rawalpindi, south of the capital Islamabad, on Friday to protest against the imposition of emergency rule.
Bhutto has also threatened to hold a mass march from Lahore to the capital on November 13, unless Musharraf quits as army chief and holds elections in January as previously scheduled.
However, police have told Bhutto’s party they will not be allowed to stage rallies because of security concerns.
“All kinds of rallies have been banned because we have reports from intelligence agencies that seven to eight suicide bombers have sneaked into [the] Punjab,” Saud Aziz, police chief of Rawalpindi, told Reuters on Thursday.
Meanwhile, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore has granted bail to more than 300 lawyers arrested during protests against emergency rule, their lawyers said on Thursday.
Another 20 senior lawyers and rights activists reportedly remain in detention in the city.
Lawyers have played a central part in protests against Musharraf, after he attempted to remove Iftikhar Chaudhry, Pakistan’s chief justice, from office.
The attempt to remove Chaudhry sparked protests which led to the judge’s temporary reinstatement by the supreme court before his sacking last week.
US criticism
On Wednesday George Bush, the US president, said he had personally told Musharraf to call elections and to “take your uniform off”.
“You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time,” he said.
It was Bush’s first direct contact with Musharraf since the Pakistan president imposed emergency law.
Bush has been questioned on the soft stance taken on the military crackdown in Pakistan compared to the hard line when Myanmar’s ruling generals crushed peaceful demonstrations.
In defending his response to both situations, Bush said different tactics were required “to achieve the common objective” because Pakistan, unlike Myanmar, was, he said, already on the path to democracy.
Also on Wednesday, police clashed with hundreds of PPP supporters who tried to overrun a security zone by parliament in Islamabad.
Supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz group, which is headed by Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, also protested against Musharraf in the city of Lahore on Wednesday.
Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Pakistan, reported that members of the legal fraternity had also protested in Peshawar.
Source: News Agencies

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