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Pakistan election campaign intensifies as opposition leaders criticize Musharraf

Pakistan election campaign intensifies as opposition leaders criticize Musharraf

Opposition leaders lashed out at President Pervez Musharraf at raucous rallies across Pakistan, telling thousands to vote for change in the Jan. 8 parliamentary election.
The poll is seen as crucial to restoring democracy after a six-week state of emergency that ended Dec. 15, as well as a corresponding crackdown on the independent judiciary and perceived government opponents.
The election will also have deep implications for the future of former army chief Musharraf's administration, seen as a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.
Former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who both returned from exile to lead their opposition parties' campaigns, have promised to jointly try loosening Musharraf's grip on power.
Sharif told 3,000 people Monday in the southern town of Sukkur that Musharraf presided over a worsening economy and sparked violence across the Islamic nation.
"The country is soaked in blood and fire from Khyber to Karachi," said Sharif. He is banned from running for office but addressed voters on behalf of his party's candidates.
A day earlier, a suicide bomb attack in the northwestern Swat region killed five civilians and four soldiers.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban, a new coalition of Islamic militants committed to holy war against the government, said it was behind the bombing. It demanded the military end anti-militant operations in Swat _ where they military says it has killed about 300 militants since last month _ and withdraw from the northwest.
The bombing "was just a warning shot ... The government should expect more if our demands are not met," Maulana Mohammed Umer, a spokesman for the militant group, said by telephone from an unknown location.
Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have recently extended their influence in the northwest and launched numerous suicide attacks.
At his rally, Sharif accused Musharraf of fealty to the U.S. and said Musharraf's dismissal of top judges had turned Pakistan into an international laughingstock.
Voters must choose "whether Pakistan will be ruled by a few generals or 160 million people," said Sharif, ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 coup.
Bhutto said at a rally in the southern city of Rahim Yar Khan that she would create jobs, provide loans and allot land to the homeless.
"I am fighting this war for the rights of the masses," she said.
Pervez Elahi, the likely candidate of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, told a rally of about 3,000 people in Jhelum city, southeast of Islamabad, that Musharraf's 1999 coup saved Pakistan when it was about to become a failed state.
Meanwhile, a coalition of opposition parties _ who are boycotting the election to protest Musharraf's crackdown on dissent _ urged its supporters to block the nation's roads on election day to sabotage the vote.


Updated : 2021-07-29 10:45 GMT+08:00