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Dec 15, 2007


Musharraf to Lift Emergency Rule, Meet Key Demand

By Khaleeq Ahmed and Farhan Sharif

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- President Pervez Musharraf is scheduled to lift emergency rule and restore the constitution in Pakistan today, meeting a key opposition demand for free and fair parliamentary elections next month.

The provisional constitutional order will be revoked through a presidential ordinance in Islamabad today, according to Musharraf's spokesman Rashid Qureshi. The president will address the nation in a televised speech at 8 p.m. local time, the official Associated Press of Pakistan said.


The restoration of the constitution may curb opposition to Musharraf from former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who have said their parties will contest the Jan. 8 ballot under protest. The U.S. had also been pressing Musharraf to revoke the emergency decree before the election.

Musharraf suspended the constitution on Nov. 3 and fired Supreme Court judges, accusing them of interfering in affairs of state and hampering the fight against terrorism. He also imposed media curbs, suspended citizens' rights and arrested thousands of opposition supporters.

`The lifting of emergency fulfills a demand of the political parties and the international community,'' Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, assistant professor of international relations at Quaid- e-Azam University in Islamabad said. ``Media curbs still remain and the judiciary's position is the same. So this is just a way to legitimize the elections.''

Constitution Amended

Musharraf amended the constitution late yesterday to ensure any actions taken under emergency cannot be challenged, Daily Times newspaper reported.

The president is not scheduled to relax restrictions on the media and has said he won't reinstate deposed judges, including former top judge Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry.

Musharraf fired the country's judges as they were due to rule on the legality of him seeking a second term in office while remaining army chief. A new panel of Supreme Court justices, all appointed by the president, rejected the challenge and backed the Oct. 6 presidential ballot, in which Musharraf won a majority of votes from lawmakers.

Musharraf stepped down as army chief on Nov. 28 and was sworn in for a second five-year term as president a day later. Most opposition supporters have been freed.

Lawyers' Boycott

Lawyers plan to boycott the election to pressure the government to reinstate deposed judges, according to the Pakistan Bar Council. As many as 40 lawyers, including Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, have withdrawn their applications to contest the election.

Cricket captain turned lawmaker Imran Khan has said his Tehrik-e-Insaaf party will boycott the elections because they are illegal under Musharraf. Khan won the sole seat for his party in the 2002 elections.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the second-largest religious party has also decided to boycott the ballot.

An opinion poll published on Dec. 13 shows that 67 percent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign immediately. Presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi rejected the poll, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

The survey was conducted last month by the Washington-based International Republican Institute after Musharraf declared a state of emergency. A majority of Pakistanis oppose the decree and 70 percent of respondents said the government doesn't deserve to be returned to office in elections.

Emergency Opposed

Seventy percent of respondents opposed the state of emergency and 26 percent supported it.

Bhutto, 54, who returned to Pakistan in October, ending eight years in self-imposed exile, has said she has evidence the pro-Musharraf party plans to rig voting. She survived an assassination attempt on her homecoming procession when suicide bombers killed 136 people in Karachi.

Sharif, 57, who was barred by the Election Commission from contesting the ballot on the grounds that he was convicted of hijacking in 2000, has said he won't work under Musharraf if he wins a majority in the voting. Sharif returned to Pakistan last month.


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