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Musharraf sets elections deadline

  • Story Highlights
  • Elections to be held by February 15, Pakistan's president says
  • Musharraf has been under pressure to hold parliamentary elections
  • Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Saturday
  • Five opposition politicians are facing treason charges in Karachi
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Under intense international pressure to restore democracy in Pakistan, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced Thursday that parliamentary elections will be held by Feb. 15 and restated his pledge to step down as the country's military leader.

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Pakistan civil rights protesters and lawyers wave banners in a demonstration in Islamabad.

"I am on record as saying these things so this is not an issue with me," Musharraf said, speaking after his meeting with the National Security Council.

Elections, originally set for mid-January, had been suspended -- along with the country's constitution -- after Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Saturday. His opponents, the target of widespread arrests and detentions, say it amounts to martial law in Pakistan.

The state of emergency will remain in place for at least a month, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, told CNN Thursday.In addition, Pakistan's government Thursday began lifting the media blackout imposed as part of the emergency order, allowing CNN and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) back on the air.

The White House called Musharraf's announcement a positive first step.

"We think it is a good thing that President Musharraf has clarified the election date for the Pakistani people," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said

Musharraf is under tremendous pressure by the United States and other foreign allies to end the state of emergency and set a date for elections.

President Bush said that he delivered that message personally to Musharraf during a Wednesday phone call.

"My message was very plain, very easy to understand, and that is, the United States wants you to have the elections as scheduled and take your uniform off," Bush said.

But Musharraf's opposition said Thursday's announcement is not enough.

"The general opposition in this country want those (Supreme Court) judges to be reinstated," opposition leader Imran Khan told CNN International. "Just lifting the emergency (order) is not good enough for us."

"We intend to resist him (Musharraf) as long as he does not reinstate the chief justice," said Khan, who is in hiding after escaping from house arrest earlier this week.

Musharraf dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the rest of the Supreme Court shortly after Saturday's emergency declaration, and replaced them with his supporters.

Khan and other opposition leaders accuse Musharraf of imposing the emergency declaration as a "power grab" by avoiding the top court's ruling that would have nullified the parliamentary vote that gave him a third term as president.

The newly installed court is expected to approve the vote, paving the way for Musharraf to take the oath of office.

Before the emergency order, he had been scheduled to be sworn in on Nov. 15 and had pledged to step down as military chief after that date.

Opposition leader and former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto expressed concern about Musharraf's announcement.

In enforcing the emergency order, Pakistani forces have arrested thousands of opposition leaders and banned broadcasts from the independent media.

Five opposition politicians -- including the head of the National Party -- were charged with treason Thursday in Karachi, a government official told CNN.

The crackdown continued Thursday, focusing on Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, which is organizing a massive rally on Friday in Rawalpindi, a city outside Islamabad where Pakistan's military is based.

Police told CNN they are working around the clock, enforcing the emergency order during the day and rounding up targeted activists at night. Officials said that from Wednesday night into Thursday, police detained more than 400 PPP activists, although party officials put that number much higher.

Friday's rally in Rawalpindi, like all public gatherings, is outlawed under Musharraf's emergency order, but Bhutto is hoping fellow opposition parties will put their differences aside and attend the rally as a challenge to Musharraf's government.

There are fears on both sides that the rally could turn violent.

"The last time when there was a rally, there was a lot of bloodshed," Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri told CNN's Zain Verjee.

"Maybe because of that, the home department of the Interior Ministry feel that they wish to make sure that such ghastly incidents are never repeated again."

Meanwhile, Bhutto spokesman Wajid Hasan in London said that water and electricity has been cut off at the location for the rally. He said the doors to the venue have been welded shut to stop keep supporters out.

Despite their criticism of Musharraf, Bhutto, Khan, and other Pakistani opposition leaders are scrambling to capitalize on the international outrage over the Pakistani leader's move.

Khan -- who is head of the Movement for Justice party which campaigns for an independent judiciary -- criticized Bhutto for not calling on Musharraf to reinstate the Supreme Court justices.

"That's the most significant thing," he told CNNI. "Until she asks for the judges to be reinstated at all costs, we would not consider her the real opposition."

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He said her role is "dubious" because she had been involved in power-sharing talks with Musharraf, which she said have since been suspended since the emergency declaration.

That, Khan said, may be why "she's been allowed to roam around while all of us are hiding, or in jail." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohsin Naqvi in Islamabad and Ed Henry in Washington contributed to this report.

All About Pervez MusharrafPakistanBenazir BhuttoNawaz Sharif

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