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Bush Tells Musharraf to Hold Elections, Resign as Army Chief

President Bush says he has personally told Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that he must hold parliamentary elections and resign his post as head of the nation's army. The president's remarks came on the same day former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto called on her supporters to rally in the streets against the government's decision to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

In what he described as a very frank phone conversation, President Bush says he told General Musharraf that he could not be president and head of the military at the same time.

Mr. Bush says he told Mr. Musharraf that he should hold elections soon and should take off his uniform before being sworn in for his second term as president.

President Bush's remarks came as Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told members of the U.S. Congress that the partnership between America and Pakistan is important.

"President Musharraf has been an indispensable ally in the global war on terrorism, a leader who extremists and radicals have tried to assassinate multiple times," said John Negroponte. "Since 9/11 Pakistan's government and security forces have captured or killed more al-Qaida operatives and Taleban militants than any other country."

In Pakistan, police clashed with supporters of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after she announced plans for massive protests against emergency rule imposed by General Musharraf.

"Our country is in danger from the extremism that has spread and a dictatorship," said Benazir Bhutto. "We believe that we can save our country by saving democracy."

Hundreds of Ms. Bhutto's supporters clashed with police outside Pakistan's parliament in Islamabad.

The former prime minister urged her supporters to defy the ban on demonstrations and to attend her party's next protest in Rawalpindi on Friday.

Teresita Schaffer, the director of the South Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the demonstration will be significant.

"I think what happens Friday will be very important," said Teresita Schaffer. "The lawyers have taken a very strong stand, but no big social movement in Pakistan can be sustained just by lawyers. The rally on Friday will be the first opportunity to see whether large numbers of people will come out on the streets and how the government will respond. The government has already said it is going to break it up."

Ms. Bhutto has left open the possibility of resuming talks with President Musharraf, providing he steps down from his military post and restores plans for January elections.

Daniel Markey, a senior South Asia specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the time for creating a political partnership between Ms. Bhutto and President Musharraf is growing short.

"With every passing day of emergency rule and rising protests it makes the two of them coming together as a coalition that much harder because the public opposition to Musharraf will grow and her capacity to manage that opposition will shrink," said Daniel Markey. "So they have to move quickly to cement a relationship between them to make that work."

Since General Musharraf suspended the constitution and assumed emergency powers, he has ousted independent-minded judges, shut down privately owned media and granted security services sweeping powers to crush dissent.

Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Ms. Bhutto's call for a large rally on Friday sets up the potential for a major confrontation.

"I am concerned about people getting hurt, but I do think that having large numbers of people in the streets is something that is going to have an impact," she said. "Conversely, if there are not very many people in the streets I think the government will conclude that it does not need to worry about protests."

Ms. Schaefer points out that when General Musharraf suspended the constitution he said he was doing so because of extremist attacks and interference from the judiciary in fighting terrorism.

Since then, she says, he has cracked down on lawyers, human rights activists, journalists and other members of civil society.