Musharraf defends emergency rule

Pakistan president vows to restore civilian rule as Bush calls for quick elections.

    Police used tear gas and batons to
    break up protests by lawyers [AFP]

    The US and Musharraf's other Western allies have been putting pressure on the president to confirm his commitment to national and local assembly elections planned for January.

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    George Bush, US president, called on his Pakistani counterpart to "restore democracy as quickly as possible".

    "We expect there to be elections as soon as possible, and for the president to remove his military uniform," he said after talks with the Turkish prime minister.

    Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, was expected to call Musharraf late on Monday after Washington postponed defence talks scheduled for later this week and said it would review future aid.

    The Netherlands has already cut its assistance to the country, while the UN secretary general expressed dismay at the political crisis. 

    Legal challenges

    Earlier, Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan's prime minister, had said that elections would be held according to schedule but legal challenges to Musharraf's re-election had to be concluded first.

    "We don't want to disrupt the election process. We want a free election," he said.

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    Abdul Qayyum, Pakistan's attorney-general, said that national and provincial assemblies would be dissolved in 10 days time to allow elections in mid-January.

    Musharraf cited a hostile judiciary as one of the reasons for the suspension of the state of emergency just days before the Supreme Court was to rule on the legality of his re-election.

    A senior judge said that most of Pakistan's judges, including Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the dismissed chief justice, had been placed under virtual house arrest after refusing to take an oath under the provisional constitutional order issued on Saturday.


    "There is a heavy security deployment and our houses are locked. We cannot go out and no one can come in," Rana Bhagwandas, the country's only Hindu Supreme Court judge, said.
    "We are confined to our rooms. We wanted to go the Supreme Court but they locked our houses from outside and have deployed heavy  security."

    Lawyers demonstrated in several of Pakistan's main cities on Monday despite police warning them of a ban on rallies. Many of them were beaten by police as they broke up the protests.

    'Deteriorating situation'

    Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, told Al Jazeera that the deteriorating situation could destabilise the whole region.
    "The attention of the country has been diverted from the militants who are trying to control the tribal areas of Pakistan, who are knocking on the doors of our frontier province and have their eye on Islamabad," she said.
    "Our internal security should be protecting our citizens from bomb blasts and instead, we find that the internal security is busy rounding up members of bar associations, civil groups and political groups."

    's security situation has deteriorated since July, when armed fighters stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush a Taliban-style movement.

    Since then nearly 800 people have been killed in violence, which has included more than 23 suicide attacks.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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