In a bid to defuse a developing insurrectionary situation, Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf said after chairing a meeting of the National Security Council yesterday: ‘General elections in the country will be held by February 15 next year.’
Musharraf claimed he was ‘committed to holding general elections and the transition to full democratic civilian rule.’
His announcement came hours after US President Bush urged him to hold the polls on time and end a state of emergency.
Musharraf’s move followed outrage over his earlier hints that the parliamentary vote originally due in January could be suspended for up to a year.
However it did not satisfy former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who denounced the ‘vague’ statement by the general.
She pledged to press ahead with plans to lead thousands of her supporters onto the streets of Rawalpindi near Islamabad on Friday.
State television also flashed that General Musharraf had renewed his pledge to give up his military uniform before taking the oath for his second term in office, but did not give a date.
Bhutto told reporters: ‘We want an exact election date, schedule of elections and a clear date of Musharraf hanging up his uniform.
‘This is yet another vague announcement. We want him to hang up his uniform by November 15.’
In addition to a mass protest in Rawalpindi today, she has pledged a ‘long march’ from Lahore to Islamabad next Tuesday, November 13.
• Second news story
STERLING HITS RECORD HIGHS
Sterling yesterday continued to hit record highs against the dollar.
In midday trading, the pound climbed as high as $2.1088, before falling back slightly to $2.1071, as analysts predicted a further weakening of the dollar.
The Bank of England yesterday kept UK interest rates unchanged at 5.75 per cent for the fourth month in a row.
Banks remained under pressure in lunchtime trade, with both Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays down 4.2 per cent, and Northern Rock falling three per cent.
In the US on Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial index closed down 360.92 points at 13,300.02, driven by commodity and credit concerns.
General Motors’ share price fell 6 per cent to $33.95 after a $39bn quarterly loss.
The Morgan Stanley bank declared $3.7bn sub-prime mortgages losses.