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Pakistan's Musharraf Announces Elections Before February 15

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has announced national elections will be held before February 15. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that Mr. Musharraf also promised to step-down as army chief, but his refusal to name a specific date is unlikely to appease his critics.

National elections had been scheduled for early January, but Mr. Musharraf told reporters here that because of scheduling difficulties, the polls could be delayed. He pledged that the elections would not be delayed by as much as a year, as some of his critics have alleged.

"Elections in Pakistan must be held before 15 February 2008, latest," he said.

Mr. Musharraf also said he would step down as head of the military, but it was unclear when that would take place.

Mr. Musharraf's unofficial presidential re-election last month has been held up by the Supreme Court, which had been considering whether he was eligible to run for president while serving as army chief.

On Saturday, Mr. Musharraf dissolved the Supreme Court and placed several of its justices under house arrest. He says he is now waiting for the newly constituted court, which is filled with more sympathetic justices, to allow the election commission to validate the election.

"When they allow this notification, that is the time when I can take oath as the president and I will remove my uniform which I have been saying [since] two months back," he added.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto quickly rejected Mr. Musharraf's announcement, saying he has broken similar pledges in the past.

"We want an election date. We want a date for retirement," she said. "It's like in 2004 when he said I'll take my uniform off and he never did."

Ms. Bhutto said she wants General Musharraf to step down as army chief by November 15.

Mr. Musharraf's government has been under increasing pressure from the United States and domestic critics to restore the constitution and end emergency rule.

On Friday, Ms. Bhutto's party plans to hold a massive protest in Rawalpindi to against emergency rule and the suspension of the constitution.

Such gatherings are banned under emergency laws and police say they will not allow the demonstration to occur.

Rawalpindi's police chief also says officials have information that suicide bombers are targeting the event. Ms. Bhutto insists the rally will go forward as planned.