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Musharraf wants docile premier, rival says

Musharraf wants docile premier, rival says

Pakistan's election campaign intensified yesterday with the three top political leaders rallying supporters across the country just two weeks before a parliamentary election decides the future of this key U.S. ally.
Meanwhile, a newly formed umbrella group of Islamic militants claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a military convoy Sunday that killed nine people and said it would carry out more attacks if the government did not end its offensive against them.
The January 8 polls, demanded by Pakistan's Western allies, are seen as a crucial step in restoring democracy here after Musharraf's November 3 declaration of emergency rule and his crackdown on the judiciary, political opponents and the independent media. Musharraf lifted the state of emergency after six weeks.
Former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who both returned from exile for the campaign, scheduled rallies in their opponents' home districts Monday in an effort to poach voters. Both candidates, pledging to work together against Musharraf, were hoping to win enough seats to loosen the former army chief's grip on power.
Speaking to 3,000 people in the town of Sukkur, in Bhutto's home province of Sindh, Sharif accused Musharraf of presiding over a worsening economy and sparking violent confrontations across the country.
"The country is soaked in blood and fire from Khyber to Karachi," said Sharif, who has been banned from running for office himself, but was addressing voters on behalf of his party's candidates.
He also accused Musharraf of fealty to the United States, and said the president's dismissal of top judges turned the country into an international laughingstock.
Sadiq ul-Farooq, a leader of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party, said Musharraf "would prefer a docile prime minister to legitimize all of the actions he had taken after imposing emergency rule," ul-Farooq said.
"Only people like Pervez Elahi can serve in this job," he said, referring to the candidate of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q.
Elahi campaigned yesterday in the city of Jehlum, near his home district.
Bhutto told a rally in the southern city of Rahim Yar Khan in Sharif's eastern Punjab province that she would create more jobs, provide loans, alleviate poverty and allot land to homeless people.
"I am fighting this war for the rights of the masses," she said.
Speaking to AP Television News, Bhutto said her agenda was "to empower the people, to educate the people, to provide employment opportunity to the people, to end the energy shortage that we have in the country."
On Sunday, Bhutto accused Musharraf's government of failing to crush Islamic militants.
Hours after Bhutto spoke, a suicide bomb attack on a military convoy killed five civilians and four soldiers in Pakistan's troubled northwestern Swat region, an army statement said.
Yesterday, the newly formed Tehrik-i-Taliban, a coalition of Islamic militants committed to waging holy war against the government, said it was behind the bombing.
"That was just a warning shot ... the government should expect more if our demands are not met," Maulana Mohammed Umer, a spokesman for the group, said in a telephone interview from an unknown location.
The group demanded the military end its operations against militants in the Swat valley, remove checkpoints in the volatile tribal areas of northwest Pakistan and fully withdraw from the region, he said.
The army claims to have killed about 300 militants in operations in Swat since last month.


Updated : 2021-07-31 09:58 GMT+08:00