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Opposition Parties Gaining Strength in Pakistan Elections


Early results from Monday's general elections in Pakistan show that the ruling party is headed for defeat and opposition parties are gaining strength.

Tariq Azeem, a spokesman for the Muslim League Q-Party that backs President Pervez Musharraf, acknowledged that Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League(N), headed by Nawaz Sharif, made big gains.

Azeem congratulated the two parties and said that if the results are confirmed, the Muslim League Q-Party will accept them and play the part of the opposition.

With his political future in the balance, Mr. Musharraf pledged to work with the new government, regardless of which party wins. He said the results are the voice of the nation and that everyone should accept them, including himself.

The voter turnout was low despite the stakes - at about 35 percent.

Final results are not expected until late Tuesday, but small groups of opposition supporters have already rushed into the streets in several cities to celebrate.

The polls are the final step in Pakistan's transition to civilian democracy after eight years of military rule.

Pakistani media reported earlier that PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and several other prominent party members, including government ministers, lost their parliamentary seats to opposition candidates.

The elections were described as relatively peaceful after a bloody campaign that has claimed hundreds of lives, including that of Benazir Bhutto. But officials say at least 20 people lost their lives in scattered violence despite the presence of 80,000 troops on the streets.

There is also tension and skepticism about the vote counting process. Elections observers say they will wait until official results are announced, before determining if the vote was credible.

Opposition parties have threatened to hold nationwide protests if there is fraud.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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