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White House Seeks Release of Pakistani Detainees

The Bush Administration is calling for an end to emergency rule in Pakistan and the release of political opponents. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, U.S. officials say they expect the country's president General Pervez Musharraf to keep his promise to hold general elections before mid-February.

U.S. National Security Council Spokesman Gordon Johndroe says President Bush joins the Pakistani people in their continued concern about the state of emergency and the curtailment of basic freedoms.

"We urge Pakistan's authorities quickly to return to constitutional order and democratic norms," he said. "All parties in Pakistan agree that free and fair elections are the best way out of the current situation there. Free and fair elections require the lifting of the state of emergency. We therefore, continue to call for an early end to that state of emergency and the release of political party members and peaceful protesters who have been detained."

Johndroe told reporters in Texas that the White House is calling on all sides to refrain from violence and to work together to put Pakistan back on the path to democracy.

President Musharraf suspended the constitution Saturday and declared emergency rule. He said Islamic militants and their supporters in the judiciary were destabilizing Pakistan.

After nearly a week of international condemnation, President Musharraf has agreed to move up general elections to mid-February and step down as head of the military once the country's Supreme Court ratifies his re-election.

Johndroe says those promises are notable, and President Bush expects the Pakistani leader to uphold those commitments.

The spokesman says the ultimate goal of America's approach is not to punish the people of Pakistan, but to help them get back on a path to democracy by holding free and fair elections once emergency rule is lifted. Johndroe says he thinks they are headed in that direction.

Pakistan is a key ally in America's war on terrorism. Washington has given President Musharraf's government more than $10 billion since 2001 to fight al-Qaida terrorists and Taliban militants in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan.