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Pakistan opposition leaders draft election terms

Pakistan’s major opposition parties joined forces Tuesday in drawing up a list of demands for President Pervez Musharraf to meet if he wants to avoid a threatened boycott of next month’s elections.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan’s major opposition parties joined forces Tuesday in drawing up a list of demands for President Pervez Musharraf to meet if he wants to avoid a threatened boycott of next month’s elections.

As conditions for their participation in parliamentary elections, the parties are preparing to demand the end of emergency rule and the release of former Supreme Court judges.

The move raises the stakes for Musharraf’s government, as part of efforts that Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, likened to a war to “save Pakistan from further destruction.” Sharif spent the day campaigning though his candidacy for the Jan. 8 balloting was struck down.

“My resolve to save Pakistan is still high and, God willing, we will win this war against Musharraf,” Sharif said as he met with supporters at several stops in the mountainous north.

Representatives of Sharif’s faction and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s party — normally political foes but drawn together by a common goal of fighting Musharraf — set up a joint committed to draw up the list of demands and set a deadline for compliance.

“We all were in agreement that under the prevailing, fraudulent system, the forthcoming elections would be massively rigged unless the opposition takes concrete steps,” said Ahsan Iqbal, one of Sharif’s nominees on the committee.

This week’s talks between Sharif and Bhutto are their first since they both returned from exile.

Sharif told supporters in Abbottabad their main demand will be that “all the actions in declaring emergency rule should be withdrawn.” He said the committee’s main issue will be how much time to give Musharraf’s government to accept the demands.

Since he declared emergency rule on Nov. 3, Musharraf has filled the Supreme Court with loyalists, which quickly approved his continued rule, and jailed hundreds of human rights workers, civic activists and lawyers.

Most have since been released, and Musharraf has promised to lift the emergency Dec. 16, about three weeks ahead of the elections. But repression continues.

Police clashed briefly with about 250 people taking part in a protest march in the capital, Islamabad. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests.

Attack by female suicide bomber
In Peshawar, a female suicide bomber, apparently trying to attack a military post, blew herself up Tuesday near a Christian school, officials said. The attack was believed to be Pakistan’s first case of a suicide attack by a woman.

Police officer Ashraf Khan said the woman was walking near a Christian missionary school and a military checkpoint in the northwestern city of Peshawar when explosives strapped to her body went off, killing her instantly. There were no other casualties.

Also Tuesday, Sharif’s politician brother faced possible arrest over murder charges dating back to 1998.

An anti-terrorism court in Lahore issued contempt notices to two police officers for not arresting Shahbaz Sharif for allegedly ordering security forces to kill suspected criminals in a shootout when he was chief minister of Punjab province, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Election officials on Monday rejected Nawaz Sharif’s candidacy for the elections because he was convicted on a charge stemming from the 1999 military coup in which Musharraf overthrew his government.

Critics accuse Musharraf’s government of reheating old criminal allegations to obstruct political opponents — a tactic with a long tradition in Pakistani politics.

Since coming home last month after eight years in exile, Sharif has emerged as Musharraf’s most vociferous opponent. He has called Musharraf’s presidency illegal and refuses to deal with him.

Musharraf retired as army chief and took the oath as a civilian president last week.

At his inauguration, he said there would be a level playing field in the elections for both Sharif and Bhutto. But he insisted that neither would be allowed to disrupt the vote and said the country needed to pull together to confront Islamic extremism.