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Musharraf Promises Free and Fair Elections

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf pledged in Brussels Monday that Pakistan's elections next month will be free and fair, and appealed to western nations to be more patient on human rights. Lisa Bryant has more for VOA on his European trip.

Speaking to the European Union legislators in Brussels, President Musharraf said that Pakistan suffers from misperceptions and distortions in the West, as he tried to assure lawmakers of his commitment to democracy and human rights. But he also urged patience.

"You have taken centuries in reaching wherever you have come. Allow us time for going for the values that you have established for yourself," said Pervez Musharraf. 'We are on the right course but our environment and your environment are very, very different."

Mr. Musharraf spoke at the start of a European tour partly aimed at trying to improve his image in Europe and at convincing allies here he is committed to the fight against terrorism.

European leaders have called for free and fair parliamentary elections, scheduled for February 18. They also asked for a full investigation into the assassination last month of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Mr. Musharraf acknowledged Pakistan faced a turbulent year in 2007 in its fight against extremism. But he rejected criticism that his government failed to adequately protect Ms. Bhutto. He also dismissed chances of extremists acquiring any part of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Following a meeting with Mr. Musharraf, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said a stable Pakistan was key for regional stability.

"NATO in Afghanistan and he [Musharraf] in Pakistan, we are fighting the same demons, the same terrorists who are trying to destabilize Pakistan and also trying to destabilize Afghanistan," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "And is also true in the opposite direction, so to say."

The NATO chief said he also received Mr. Musharraf's assurances that next month's elections would be free and fair.

The Pakistani leader, who is on a mission to reassure Europe that Pakistan is a reliable ally, next meets with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, in Paris Tuesday. He will then attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, before going to London for talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.