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Pakistan's Musharraf Promises Fair Vote; Opposition Boycott Crumbles

Pakistan's President is again promising that next month's elections will be free and fair, as efforts by opposition parties to present a united front appear to have crumbled. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

For weeks, President Pervez Musharraf has insisted that the January 8 vote will be transparent and free of fraud. The assurances have not convinced major opposition parties, which until now have maintained the threat of a boycott.

News reports from Pakistan say opposition parties met to consider a boycott pact, but failed to reach an agreement. As a result, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League Party now says it has no choice but to take part in the general elections, despite misgivings about the integrity of the vote.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, Mr. Musharraf accused opposition groups of leveling baseless accusations for their own political purposes.

"This is a clear indication of their preparation for defeat," said Pervez Musharraf. "Now when they lose, they will have a good rationale, [saying] that it is all rigged, that this is all fraud. This is what they do always. In Pakistan, the loser always cries. I think they should gracefully participate in the elections, and then gracefully accept defeat if any of them gets defeated. We will congratulate anyone who does win."

Mr. Musharraf recently stepped down as head of Pakistan's armed forces, but has yet to lift a state of emergency that has sparked controversy and criticism at home and abroad. The one-time general who overthrew Mr. Sharif in 1999 suggested that his critics in the international community should not be judging him.

"We act according to our dictates and realities in Pakistan," said Mr. Musharraf. "And let the people in the United States and the West understand what Pakistan is. Please understand us . We are fighting the terrorists here. Do not destabilize Pakistan, you will repent [regret] it."

Mr. Musharraf also reiterated his opposition to any unilateral military move by the United States to capture terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory.

President Bush ordered that all U.S. assistance to Pakistan be reviewed after Mr. Musharraf suspended constitutional rule, but said U.S.-Pakistani security cooperation must continue, especially in the fight against terrorism.

One of Mr. Bush's top supporters in the U.S. Congress, House Republican Leader John Boehner, said he still has confidence in the Pakistani ruler.

"I do, and I think he has been, really, a very important ally to us," said John Boehner. "And when we look at the threats we face around the world, having Pakistan as one of our allies is important to our long-term future.

Boehner, who also spoke on CNN, added that he is hopeful that constitutional rule will be restored in Pakistan, and that the January elections will be free and fair.