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Pakistan's Opposition Rejects New Caretaker Government


A caretaker government has been installed in Pakistan to oversee parliamentary elections in January. But as VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad, political opposition parties are dismissing the new government, saying free elections are not possible under any government as long as emergency rule remains in place.

President Pervez Musharraf swore in Senate chairman Mohammadmian Soomro, a close political ally, as the head of Pakistan's caretaker government Friday. The president administered the oath of office to key officials, whose main duty will be to oversee elections expected in early January.

General Musharraf has pledged that the interim government will be impartial, but key positions have been filled with loyalists from his PML-Q party.

Faratullah Babar is a spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He predicts neither the new government nor the elections will be impartial.

"We have been asking for free and fair elections, and under the conditions of martial law, free and fair election are not possible - even if they are set up with the caretaker government," he noted. "And this government is a clone of the PML-Q."

Ms. Bhutto was freed from house arrest early Friday, and later held a news conference in Lahore. Independent television stations, some of which were allowed to resume domestic broadcasting on Thursday for the first time since the November 3 emergency decree, relayed some of her comments.

Ms. Bhutto said her party would not hold talks with "dictators" - an apparent reference to General Musharraf. She said since he took power in a 1999 military coup, he had undermined not only democracy, but also the war on terrorism.

"After 9/11, I went on Fox television, I went on CNN, I wrote articles, saying we need regime change in Pakistan first," she said. "Because if we don't have regime change in Pakistan, the Taliban will regroup. Al-Qaida will regroup."

Ms. Bhutto has called for the president to step down. She said much of the foreign aid sent to Pakistan during his tenure has been wasted, and Islamic militants have only grown stronger.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is expected to hold talks with senior Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Saturday. The U.S. diplomat is expected to push General Musharraf to end emergency rule and free thousands of detained opposition figures.