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Pakistan Elections Announced

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf Tuesday promised national elections and a return to democracy in October 2002, the third anniversary of the bloodless coup that brought him to power.

Musharraf, who seized power on Oct. 12, 1999 and added the position of president to his title of chief executive in June, has moved methodically toward presenting his "roadmap" for a return to elected government, ignoring international pressure for an earlier restoration of parliament.

In speeches Tuesday marking Pakistan's 54th anniversary of independence, the military ruler said elections for two houses of parliament and provincial assemblies would take place from October 1-11, 2002.

Previously he has said national political parties could participate, but he made no mention of the subject Tuesday. He said the actual transfer of power to a civilian set-up — in which he will remain president — would be completed between October and November next year.

Musharraf said he also planned to amend the country's suspended constitution to introduce "checks and balance" by the end of June next year.

He said the changes would be made after a public debate on his proposals, which he did not specify. He is expected to give the presidency, now a figurehead position, key powers now held by the prime minister in the British-style parliamentary system.

Political analysts expect the constitutional changes will strengthen the president and create a new political system run by civilians but supervised by the army. Under the current constitution, the president is chosen by the federal and provincial parliaments.

His announcement followed the last of a series of party-less local elections held across the country this year that Musharraf expects to produce a new political leadership to replace the largely discredited figures of the previous decade.

He said in an earlier speech Tuesday to mark the national day that Pakistan had somehow lost the spirit of its early years after the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the formation of the country in 1947. But he did not blame India, with whom he has begun peace talks, instead fingering internal ruptures.

Musharraf introduced a harsh new anti-terrorist law and banned two militant extremist groups, promising to stamp out sectarian violence that has long plagued the South Asian nation and has left hundreds dead.

"Pakistan is confronted by sectarian and ethnic extremists," said Musharraf. "Our society has become an intolerant society and unfortunately innocent people are being killed."

"We have to advocate tolerance, understanding of each other's views and beliefs," he said.

Musharraf, who was head of the armed forces, seized power in a bloodless coup after prime minister Nawaz Sharif tried to oust him. Sharif was arrested on a wide range of charges but was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia last December.

After the coup, the Supreme Court gave its approval to the takeover but told Muharraf he had three years to complete promised reforms and hold national elections.

But the election time announced Tuesday is unlikely to satisfy major political parties that disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling and sought earlier elections. They had been barred from formal participation in the local elections.

"I don't think anybody will be satisfied," said Najam Sethi, editor of the respected Friday Times weekly.

The United States imposed sanctions on Pakistan after Musharraf's coup — the latest in a country where the military has ruled for 27 of the last 54 years.

It is expected that if a civilian government is restored, Washington will lift sanctions. A U.S. law bars most types of aid to countries where a democratically elected government has been overthrown.

The measures came on top of earlier sanctions imposed on both Pakistan and India after their 1998 nuclear tests. Pakistan, whose economy is heavily dependent on foreign loans, has been particularly hard hit.

©MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report

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