Under-pressure Musharraf says elections by Feb 15

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : Acting under intense international pressure and condemnation, President Pervez Musharraf said Thursday that the emergency will be lifted soon and general elections will be held before Feb 15.

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He also said he will doff the army uniform before taking oath as president for another term.

Talking to reporters after the National Security Council (NSC) meeting here, he said the situation in the country had forced him to impose a state of emergency Nov 3.

The president said elections would be held before Feb 15.

He also told reporters that he will doff the military uniform before taking oath as president for another five-year term.

Musharraf was elected with a huge margin for a five-year term Oct 6 but his notification was withheld on the Supreme Court’s orders.

Now after the imposition of emergency and proclamation of the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO), the Supreme Court’s order has become null and void but the government officials say the new Supreme Court will issue an order in that regard soon, possibly allowing Musharraf to continue as president.

He said that “some” countries had expressed concern over emergency in the country, but added: “We have told them about the situation after which it became necessary to impose the emergency.”

He chaired the NSC meeting without Leader of Opposition Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who has resigned from the National Assembly.

The NSC consists of the president, the military services chiefs, the prime minister, the chairman of the Senate, the speaker of the National Assembly and leader of the opposition. The provincial chief ministers were specially invited to this extraordinary NSC session.

Meanwhile, Malik Abdul Qayuum, the chief of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), has also said the elections will be held Feb 15.

“The government will hold elections in February and the state of emergency will be lifted very soon,” Qayuum told a press conference.

“We are making all-out efforts to lift the emergency as soon as possible,” he said, calling upon the allied parties to start preparations for the election.

The security forces, meanwhile, remained on high alert in the country as lawyers continued boycott of the court proceedings against imposition of emergency and condemned the measures taken by the government during general body meeting.

The government has charged three politicians and a trade union leader with treason for making speeches against Musharraf’s imposition of emergency.

The four were remanded in custody for two weeks by a court in Karachi, two days after they were arrested for criticising Musharraf in addresses at the city’s press club.

Treason – or sedition, as the activists have been formally charged with – carries a maximum sentence of death. The arrested men are Baluch nationalist leader Hasil Bizenjo, his party’s provincial chief Ayub Qureshi, the vice-president of the National Workers Party, Yusuf Mustikhan, and trade union leader Liaquat Sahi.

But to the government’s surprise, an anti-terrorism court in Lahore granted bail to more than 300 lawyers arrested during protests.

These lawyers were detained in Lahore Monday on charges of terrorism, rioting and attacking public property and police. The judge allowed their bail applications. They were to be released after paying surety bonds of Rs.20,000 ($333) each.

Reports from Lahore said that security arrangements in the city and outside the high court were further beefed up on the fifth day consecutive day since the imposition of emergency.

Heavy contingents of police were posted outside the high court while check-posts were also set up at important roads of the city.