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Bush: Musharraf Promises 'Positive Steps'

President Bush says Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf has taken "positive steps" by promising to lift the state of emergency, step down as army chief, and hold elections early next year. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

President Bush says he still trusts General Musharraf, noting the Pakistani president aligned himself with Washington after the September 2001 attacks on the United States and has proven himself a good ally in the war on terror, bringing several al-Qaida leaders to justice.

"Many of those folks thought they could find safe haven in Pakistan. And that would not have happened without President Musharraf honoring his word. He fully understands the dangers of al-Qaida," said Mr. Bush.

In remarks made Saturday at a joint news conference at his Texas ranch with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Bush refrained from criticizing the Pakistani leader, saying only that he hopes General Musharraf will honor his pledges and suspend the state of emergency, making it possible for democracy to flourish.

"My concern is for the sake of the Pakistani people, to proceed back on track as quickly as possible," he said. "President Musharraf said that he would take off his uniform. He said there would be elections after the new year, and our hope is that he would suspend this emergency decree to allow this society, which is on the path to democracy, to get back on the path to democracy."

Mr. Bush added that he and General Musharraf share the goal of eradicating al-Qaida, and cooperation between the two nations is necessary to accomplish that.

Pakistan has been in turmoil since General Musharraf declared a state of emergency a week ago, insisting he had no choice, but to move aggressively against Islamic extremists and the nation's courts which he said were undermining stability.

The crackdown has mostly targeted his political, judicial and media critics, including opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. The former prime minister spent Friday under house arrest.

Earlier Saturday, Musharraf's government announced plans to lift the state of emergency within one month. General Musharraf has said parliamentary elections will be held by February 15, one month later than originally scheduled.