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Pakistani President, British PM Meet in London


Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf held talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London, reassuring his host that Pakistan will hold free and fair election next month and is ready to continue a sustained fight against terrorism and extremism. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London on this final leg of President Musharraf's European diplomatic initiative.

It has been widely dubbed as President Musharraf's "charm offensive." The Pakistani leader has held talks in Brussels, Paris, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and now in London in an effort to shore up European support for his government.

His message throughout has been much the same - namely that Pakistan has been successful in fighting al Qaida, the Taleban and other Islamic extremists, that his government can sustain that effort, that it has a political strategy to wean local Pakistanis away from extremist ideology and that it is committed to democracy.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Musharraf rejected the notion that his government has failed in its efforts.

"We have not failed. We are going along fighting al Qaida, fighting militant Taleban and fighting Talebanization flowing outside," he said. "And also fighting extremism in some segments of our society in Pakistan."

Not everyone agrees. Speaking in London, Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan said the situation in Pakistan is, as he put it, going from bad to worse.

"The question that needs to be asked is how come if General Musharraf is our best bet to fight terrorism, how come terrorism is increasing by leaps and bounds. Last year was the bloodiest year for Pakistan, culminating in the assassination of [opposition leader] Benazir Bhutto," said Khan.

President Musharraf's government has come under increasing criticism at home and abroad, and world leaders have repeatedly urged him to move ahead with democratization.

President Musharraf said he reassured Prime Minister Brown about the upcoming vote.

"I did inform the Prime Minister [of] our strong desire to go forward with the elections and to ensure that elections will be fair, free and transparent," said Mr. Musharraf.

The elections are scheduled for February 18 and opposition politician Imran Khan says they will be vital. He said it is also important that western powers support the process.

"In my opinion the only way forward for Britain and the United States is to back not people, not individuals, not political parties, but the democratic process. They should back free and fair elections in Pakistan. It is the only way out of this quagmire," he said.

Khan was among hundreds of anti-Musharraf protesters outside Prime Minister Brown's offices at Number 10 Downing Street.

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