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Rights Group: Free and Fair Elections Impossible in Pakistan

A rights group says free and fair elections are impossible in Pakistan under the current political climate.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says a genuine election campaign is impossible when the media remains muzzled, leaders of civil society remain under arrest, and a legitimate judiciary is replaced by hand-picked supporters of the government.

The group released its findings in a new 84-page report detailing Pakistan's crackdown on lawyers and judges during emergency rule imposed on November 3.

Human Rights Watch claims a large number of judges, lawyers and government critics are still being detained.

President Pervez Musharraf lifted the state of emergency on Saturday, saying the controversial measure was a last resort to save Pakistan from destabilization.

Mr. Musharraf has pledged that the elections will be fair and transparent. But opposition political figures say Mr. Musharraf has already rigged the balloting to favor his supporters.

Next month's parliamentary election is seen as a three-way race among the parties of Mr. Sharif, Ms. Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Tuesday lost his appeal to take part in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Nine thousand candidates are expected to compete in the poll.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.