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Pakistan wraps up vote campaign

Latest update : 2008-02-16

Pakistani politicians were completing their campaigns on Saturday for a general election that has been overshadowed by fear of violence and accusations of rigging.

Pakistani politicians launched a final push for votes Saturday, as Islamist militants blew up a polling station in an attack that raised new fears for the security of next week's elections.
   
Rows about alleged rigging also rumbled on, with a US lawmaker urging Washington to cut military aid to its nuclear-armed ally against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban if Monday's voting is not free and fair.
   
Campaigning ends at midnight (1900 GMT) on Saturday and all rallies are banned from then until after Monday's landmark vote, seen as decisive for the political future of President Pervez Musharraf.
   
Opposition groups have accused Musharraf's administration of rigging the polls to head off possible impeachment if a hostile parliament is voted in.
   
But Musharraf said Saturday he was "positive the polls would be fair".
   
"It has to be that way," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Musharraf as saying.
   
"Inshallah (God willing) we will have a stable, democratically elected government ... we will ensure successful fight against terrorism and extremism and we will ensure sustaining the economic growth of Pakistan."
   
As he spoke, security officials said militants used a timebomb to blow up a polling station overnight in Khar, the main town of the troubled Bajaur tribal agency bordering Afghanistan.
   
Police in the southern city of Hyderabad meanwhile said they had arrested a suspected militant equipped with a suicide jacket and explosives who was planning an attack during the polls.
   
Most electioneering was taking place in the political battleground of Punjab, Pakistan's biggest and most affluent region.
   
The widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, met former premier Nawaz Sharif in Lahore for new talks on possible power-sharing after the vote if the opposition wins a majority, party officials said.
   
Supporters of an opposition alliance that is boycotting the vote, including the party of former cricketer Imran Khan and hardline Islamic organisations, shouted "Musharraf is a liar" at a meeting in the eastern city of Lahore.
   
"We are protesting against elections because they will be flawed. There will be rigging," said Abdul Rashid, a 72-year-old retired professor, as riot police wielding sticks and plastic shields stood guard.
   
Campaigning has however been mostly lacklustre in the run up to the election, due partly to a wave of suicide attacks, most notably the one that killed Bhutto at a political rally on December 27.
   
Some 81,000 army and paramilitary soldiers have fanned out across the country to maintain peace and security during the election, chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said.
   
He said around 34,000 army troops and 47,000 other paramilitary soldiers had been used.
   
"The deployment is complete. The army soldiers will be outside the polling stations in sensitive areas," Abbas told AFP.
   
Around 9,000 polling stations have been declared the "most sensitive," he added.
   
Qaiser Tareen, commander of the paramilitary Punjab Rangers, said troops have been ordered to "shoot on sight" those who try to hamper the voting or disrupt peace on election day.
   
In Washington, a senior US senator in a Congressional team travelling to monitor the polls said late Friday that the United States should "cut off aid to Pakistan, military aid" if the vote is not fair.
   
Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, who is head of the influential Senate foreign relations committee, also forecast riots throughout Pakistan if the elections were found to be "patently rigged."
   
A fresh row erupted over the fairness of the polls on Friday after Human Rights Watch said it had obtained a recording of Pakistan's attorney-general predicting the vote will be "massively rigged."
   
But Malik Qayyum, a close ally of Musharraf, said the allegation was "ridiculous... a conspiracy against Pakistan" and denied making the comment.
 

Date created : 2008-02-16

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