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Rice calls for free elections in Pakistan


Washington : US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for "free and fair" elections in Pakistan and expressed concerns about the violent protests in the country.

"There are an important set of events coming up, when there will be elections in Pakistan," Rice said. "And the importance of those elections being free and fair, as a foundation for a more democratic Pakistan, I think, is very clear."

Rice's comments came shortly before a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and after months of political turmoil following President Pervez Musharraf's March 9 dismissal of the country's top judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry, on allegations he abused his office.

Pakistan was expected to hold parliamentary elections early next year. Opposition leaders in parliament have called on Musharraf to step down as head military chief as a condition for him to continue holding onto the presidency.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup and has ruled the country since. The US has urged its close ally in the war on terrorism to introduce democratic reforms to the country.

Several US officials, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher, met with Musharraf in Pakistan last week.