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Musharraf pledges January election

  • Story Highlights
  • Musharraf: elections to take place before Jan. 9
  • Campaigning could take place during emergency order
  • General says he will take oath as civilian leader once top court OKs election
  • Musharraf widens military powers by amending law
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Sunday that elections will go ahead in January despite a state of emergency that he said was needed to tackle extremists and ensure free and fair elections.

He said the vote will take place before January 9 but he would not say when the state of emergency would end.

Musharraf is under pressure at home and abroad -- particularly the U.S. and Britain -- to steer the nuclear-armed country back toward democracy by lifting the November 4 emergency order, holding elections, and quitting as army chief.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautiously welcomed Musharraf's election timeline, calling it a "positive element," but stressing "the state of emergency has got to be lifted, and lifted as soon as possible."

"This is a country that's going through extraordinarily difficult circumstances," Rice told ABC's "This Week."

"But it is an ally, it is a friend. And we believe that, at a time like this, our best role is to counsel and indeed persuade that Pakistan has got to get back on the democratic path that it had established."

Speaking at his first news conference since the order, Musharraf restated his vow to step down as military chief once a newly installed Supreme Court approves his third term in office.

"The moment they give a decision ... I shall take the oath of office as the civilian president of Pakistan," he said. "I hope that happens as soon as possible." Video Watch Musharraf explain reasons for emergency. »

Musharraf replaced the previous court shortly after issuing the emergency order -- a move that his opponents said amounts to a power grab.

Opposition leaders believe Musharraf issued the emergency order to avoid an impending ruling that would have nullified his election victory by disqualifying him for another presidential term.

Although the newly installed court has not formally issued its ruling, Musharraf, who stormed to power in a 1999 coup, said "they accept the election."

Despite promising to restore civilian rule to Pakistan, Musharraf on Saturday widened the powers of the military by amending a law to allow army courts to try offenses such as treason and inciting public unrest.

Last week, five opposition politicians -- including the heads of the National Party and the National Workers' Party -- were charged with treason in the main port city of Karachi.

While those five will be tried in civilian court, the amended law could pave the way Musharraf's political opponents to be charged and tried in military court.

Musharraf defended the emergency order that suspended Pakistan's constitution, saying acted to save the country from governmental paralysis caused by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and extremists.

"I found myself between a rock and a hard surface," he said. The decision was made, he said, "to preserve this nation, to safeguard it and to risk myself, or to let go, hoping that the nation may improve later in the turmoil that one leaves."

Musharraf would not say when he would lift the emergency, but said democratic processes would be back on track with a parliamentary vote to be held before January 9. He said Pakistan's election commission would decide an exact date.

According to Musharraf, a caretaker government will assume power on November 15, Pakistan's parliament and provincial assemblies will dissolve by November 20 and elections will take place 45 to 60 days from that date.

"This is history, ladies and gentlemen," Musharraf said. Musharraf said the emergency declaration would help curb extremist attacks and ensure a "fair and transparent vote."

Meanwhile, Pakistani opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto arrived in Lahore Sunday where she is planning to lead a protest march to Islamabad on Tuesday against Musharraf's emergency order.

Bhutto, who has spoken out against Musharraf's emergency order, has also been criticized by fellow opposition leaders for considering a power-sharing deal with the man she has referred to as a military dictator.

In addition to the opposition protests, foreign and Pakistani journalists have been demonstrating against the ongoing media blackout, which limits local broadcasts of the festering political crisis.

Under the emergency order, it is unlikely that the independent media will be able to cover the election.

Musharraf insisted on Sunday that he backs journalistic independence, but asked for "responsibility" in their reporting.

"It's not that you should not criticize us. Do please criticize the government. Do please criticize me, but there has to be checks on defamation by design," Musharraf told reporters.

On Saturday Pakistan's government kicked out three reporters from Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper for using language in an editorial that a Pakistani official called "offensive" to Musharraf.


Friday's editorial criticized Musharraf, and the United States and Britain for continuing to support him. "Let us remain in the norms of behavior," he said.

"If there isn't anybody that doesn't have a sense of how to speak and how to right what conduct and behavior, I'm really shocked. I don't have words. What can I say about it?" E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.

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