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Pakistan's PM Says No Date Set for National Elections

One day after Pakistan's president declared a state of emergency, the country's prime minister says officials have not yet decided when new national elections will be held. Meanwhile, Pakistan is bracing for protests Monday against emergency rule and possible election delays. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad, where Shaukat Aziz also discussed whether President Pervez Musharraf will step down as chief of the army.

Shaukat Aziz told reporters in a news conference that the government is still committed to holding elections, but he said the timing is now uncertain.

"When you have an emergency, the parliament could give itself more time - up to a year - and in terms of holding the next elections," Mr. Aziz said. "However, at this point, no decision has been made and we are deliberating. When we decide what deliberations results in, we will certainly share it with you."

Before Mr. Musharraf suspended the constitution, elections were scheduled to be held in early January.

That timetable, as well as pending legal challenges to General Musharraf's unofficial re-election last month, has been thrown into disarray by the state of emergency.

Senior judges have been forced to sign an oath to uphold a new provisional constitution imposed by Mr. Musharraf. State television reports 17 have now done so. Other judges, including the Supreme Court Chief Justice, have refused to sign and have been placed under house arrest.

When asked if General Musharraf still plans to step down as army chief, the prime minister said officials are waiting to see how the courts rule on the legality of his re-election.

Mr. Aziz also discussed new media laws, which ban news coverage that officials believe ridicules or endangers the government.

"I think a code of conduct is a necessary development," Mr. Aziz said. "We will obviously discuss with the newspaper and electronic media community. Which I think you are starting discussions very soon and then we will form a code of conduct."

Independent and foreign news broadcasts remain off the air in Pakistan. Phone service has been restored.

Mr. Aziz also says up to 500 people have been detained across the country under the emergency laws. The detentions include opposition leaders and human-rights activists.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's military says pro-Taliban militants have freed 211 Pakistani troops held captive since late August in a tribal region near the Afghan border.

An army spokesman said the men were freed through the efforts of a tribal council, known as a jirga.