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Bush Calls Musharraf, Urges Elections in Pakistan

President Bush has personally contacted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for the first time since the imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House, Mr. Bush says his message was clear and the discussion was frank.

President Bush says he told Mr. Musharraf to give up his military rank and get Pakistan back on the path to democracy.

"My message was that we believe strongly in elections and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform - you can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time," he said.

Mr. Bush placed the call shortly before meeting with French leader Nicolas Sarkozy at Mt. Vernon, the historic Virginia home of America's first president, George Washington. At a joint news conference President Sarkozy said he too is concerned about events in Pakistan.

He spoke through a translator.

"Let me remind you that this is a country of 150 million inhabitants which happens to have nuclear weapons," he noted. "This is very important to us that one day we should not wake up with a government, an administration in Pakistan which is in the hands of the extremists."

A senior U.S. military officer said Wednesday the Pentagon is concerned about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Lieutenant General Carter Ham, who handles operations for the senior military staff, said the U.S. military is monitoring the situation "quite closely" but declined to comment further.

Overall, Bush administration officials have watched their words carefully throughout the crisis in Pakistan. They stress Pakistan's importance in the war on terrorism, calling President Musharraf's decision to declare a state of emergency a mistake that can be rectified.

During his appearance at Mt. Vernon, President Bush was asked why he has not called for Pervez Musharraf to resign, much as he has the military rulers of Burma, whom he has denounced for their crackdown on dissent. Mr. Bush said the objective in both Burma and Pakistan is the same - to promote democracy. But he went on to stress the two countries are very different.

"Pakistan has been on the path to democracy," he explained. "Burma hasn't been on the path to democracy. And it requires different tactics to achieve the common objective."

The Pakistani government imposed emergency rule on Saturday, suspending the constitution, ousting the top judge and arresting opponents. President Musharraf has said the steps were necessary to prevent a takeover by Islamic extremists. But critics charge all he wants to do is solidify power and stifle dissent at a time of dwindling public support.