Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has promised upcoming parliamentary elections will be free and fair after he quashed what he said was a conspiracy among the judiciary against democracy. Mr. Musharraf spoke shortly after lifting a "state of emergency" and just a day after amending the country's constitution to legalize his moves to stay in power and silence opponents. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.
In comments televised across Pakistan Saturday night, Mr. Musharraf said the country's transition to democracy is back on track after he lifted a self-declared "state of emergency" earlier in the day.
Mr. Musharraf said he was forced last month to impose emergency rule to prevent judges and others he did not name from derailing Pakistan's path to democracy.
After declaring the emergency in November, Mr. Musharraf suspended the constitution, clamped down on independent media, arrested hundreds of opposition politicians, and replaced Supreme Court judges with handpicked jurists who quickly rubber stamped his controversial run for president while in uniform.
In his speech Saturday, Mr. Musharraf repeated a promise not to interfere in parliamentary elections next month.
"It is my commitment to the entire nation of Pakistan and to its people, and to the world, that the election on the eighth of January will be held on time and will be absolutely fair and transparent," he said. "We would like to invite any number of observers to come and watch the fairness of these elections."
Opposition politicians and election observers have said Mr. Musharraf's moves have already rigged the election in favor of his supporters. Some small parties are boycotting the election in protest, but the two main opposition parties have said they will contest the election.
Mr. Musharraf said there is no reason for a boycott and warned "political agitators" will not be tolerated.
He also said he stands for independent media, but he made no commitment to lift the ban he placed on news that criticizes the head of state and government officials. The ban threatens media and reporters with heavy fines and jail time.
Also, the judges who were fired in November have not been reinstated.
Earlier Saturday, judges loyal to Mr. Musharraf pledged to honor the constitutional amendments legalizing his presidency, the emergency decree, and the purging of judges who opposed his decisions.
In his Saturday speech, Mr. Musharraf touted his government's achievements in the eight years since he took power in a bloodless military coup. He said he has put Pakistan on the path of development and empowered women, minorities, and young people while improving security in the tribal regions.
But Pakistan has experienced a growing number of terror attacks. On Saturday a suicide bomber on a bicycle killed two soldiers and three civilians near a Pakistani army camp in the northwest of the country.