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Pakistan's Musharraf Won't Lift Emergency Rule

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne, who is at member station KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri.

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 of 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: 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 is 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. Bhutto says Musharraf's announcement of an election date is a positive step, but it's only one of her demands. That's why, says party official Jahanga Bada(ph), she's going ahead with the march, which they're billing as a march for democracy.

Mr. JAHANGA BADA(ph): People have to fight for their rights. People (unintelligible) rights, for their freedoms and for the constitution.

REEVES: The march is not in fact a march, but a motorcade. But the Pakistani authorities may well refuse to allow Bhutto's procession to go ahead. Once again, Bhutto may be confined to her residence.

It's clear Musharraf is finding Bhutto hard to handle, and now it's showing. When asks 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 raised her popularity? I wonder whether you know the rural areas of Pakistan.

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). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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