Musharraf promises January vote, continues emergency rule
Pakistan will hold its general election on schedule in January, but a state of emergency will be kept in place, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told reporters on Sunday.
"Certainly the emergency is required to ensure peace in Pakistan, to ensure an environment conducive to elections," he said in Islamabad. The elections should be held before Jan. 9, he said.
The dates for both the election and the end of the state of emergency have shifted several times as domestic and international pressure on Musharraf has increased. The United States, a key Pakistani ally, has expressed public concern about the delays.
"I do understand the emergency has to be lifted, but I cannot give a date," Musharraf said.
In a related development, the Associated Press reported that Pakistani officials said Musharraf has given military courts new powers to try civilians on charges including treason and inciting public unrest.
Under the state of emergency, declared Nov. 3, the chief justice of the Supreme Court was replaced and police took to the streets. Former prime minister and Musharraf challenger Benazir Bhutto denounced the government's move.
After the announcement, police barred Bhutto from leaving her home on one occasion and prevented her from visiting the deposed chief justice on another.
On Sunday, she was in Lahore, planning a rally in defiance of a government order.
She calledMusharraf's announcement a good first step, but added that it would be hard to hold a vote while the state of emergency continues.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also welcomed the decision to hold the election, but also asked Musharraf to end the state of emergency
as soon as possible.
Musharraf imposed the state of emergency to curb increasing extremism and problems in the judiciary, he said in announcing the move.
"I suspect that Pakistan's sovereignty is in danger unless timely action is taken," he said.
But his critics and opponents seem to have been the main targets of his actions.
With files from the Associated Press