US warns Musharraf on rule

HARD LINE: US envoy John Negroponte in Islamabad. PIc. Wally Santana. 18/11/07. © AP.
HARD LINE: US envoy John Negroponte in Islamabad. PIc. Wally Santana. 18/11/07. © AP.

Simon Gardner

Simon Gardner

ISLAMABAD - US envoy John Negroponte said yesterday he had urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to end emergency rule, warning it was "not compatible" with free and fair elections due by early January and would undermine them.

The US deputy secretary of state, who met Musharraf on Saturday, praised his role in the fight against al Qaeda and Taliban militants, saying Washington valued its partnership with its ally. But he bluntly called on him to lift emergency rule.

"Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections," Negroponte told a news conference.

He said he had also called on Musharraf to release thousands of opposition figures who have been rounded up and imprisoned, and to stick to his word to quit as army chief.

"If those steps aren't taken, it will certainly undermine the government's ability to conduct satisfactory elections," he said.

Negroponte said reconciliation between moderate political forces - apparently referring to a public rift between Musharraf and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto - was "very desirable".

The US had hoped the pair, seen as supportive of its war on terrorism, would share power after the election, but Bhutto has ruled out working with Musharraf and is seeking to form a political alliance with other parties.

Musharraf has promised elections will be held by January 9, and is determined to remove his army uniform and be sworn in as a civilian president once a pending supreme court ruling on his October re-election is out.

Musharraf has also slapped curbs on the media and two leading private news stations say they have been forced to close down altogether. - Reuters