Pakistan's Musharraf Won't Lift Emergency Rule
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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has announced plans to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled in January. He said he has no plans to withdraw the emergency decree, which he declared a week ago. Musharraf, under increasing pressure from all sides, including Washington, was defiant when he met with reporters yesterday in Islamabad.
NPR's Philip Reeves has more.
PHILIP REEVES: They say to feel the heartbeat to Pakistan you have to come to Lahore. This is the capital of the most populous province, Punjab - a bustling center of political and intellectual life. It's also the backdrop for the next act in Pakistan's precarious political drama.
Less than three days after being placed briefly under house arrest in Islamabad, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has now come here. She says tomorrow she'll embark on what she's calling a long march - a journey from Lahore to Islamabad more than 200 miles away.
Demonstrations are banned at the moment in Pakistan. The march is meant as another challenge to Musharraf, another attempt to pressure him to meet her terms, including lifting the emergency, quitting as army chief by Thursday, and transitioning to civilian rule.
President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): So any day towards the end of the first week of January.
REEVES: Pressure is building on Musharraf from all sides. Yesterday, the beleaguered general gave some ground. Elections will be held on time, after all, he said, before January the 9th, but they'll be held under emergency rule. An alliance of Pakistan's opposition parties is already considering boycotting them. They say fair elections can't possibly be held while there are draconian restrictions on civil liberties and thousands of political activists in prison. How, asks Anwar Baig, a senior politician in Bhutto's party, can you legally hold an election when the constitution suspended?
Mr. ANWAR BAIG (Pakistan Peoples Party): Under what law? Under what law is he going to hold the elections? You need to have a constitution in place.
REEVES: At Bhutto's residence in Lahore this morning, the scene's quiet but expectant. There are many dozens of police, not to mention private security guards. Every road leading to Bhutto's house is blocked off by the security services. It's clear Musharraf is finding Bhutto hard to handle, and now it's showing.
When asked yesterday by a reporter if placing her under house arrest last week actually increased her popularity, the general gave a tetchy response.
Pres. MUSHARRAF: Did you say it raised her popularity? I wonder whether you know the rural areas of Pakistan. Pakistan's population…
Unidentified Man: What I said is it raised her popularity here in Islamabad and another cities.
Pres. MUSHARRAF: Islamabad, where there were 150 people at one time outside her residence.
REEVES: But today Musharraf will be more concerned about how to respond to the threatened march.
Anwar Baig says that even if Bhutto's confined again to quarters, it will still go ahead.
Mr. BAIG: Even if they put her under house arrest, other senior leadership - they'll continue the march.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Lahore.
WERTHEIMER: That story was compiled with reporting assistance from Jurnaid Baharukhan(ph).
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