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US Urges Sharif, Others, to Join Pakistan Electoral Process


The United States, in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, is urging all moderate Pakistani political forces including the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take part in the country's planned elections. Mr. Sharif's Pakistani Muslim League said Thursday it will boycott parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department says U.S. diplomats are reaching out broadly to moderate Pakistani political parties in the wake of the assassination, urging them to join in the election process and to cooperate in fighting extremism.

Officials say Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns and Assistant Secretary for South Asia Richard Boucher are leading the effort, and calls have been made to, among others, leaders of Mr. Sharif's party.

The former Pakistani prime minister, arguably Pakistan's most prominent opposition figure after the death of Benazir Bhutto, Thursday called for the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf and said his party will boycott the election.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said whether or not Mr. Sharif reconsiders the boycott is his own calculation to make, but said the United States believes all factions should support the elections and work to see that they are free, fair and transparent.

"Our ongoing position with him, and with others, is that it's important again that moderate forces in Pakistan agree to work together, and we would certainly encourage him as well as all others, as well as all political parties, to participate in the process again with an eye toward insuring there is the broadest possible opportunity for the Pakistani people to choose among a variety of legitimate political actors in the country," he said.

The Bush administration said in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Ms. Bhutto that Pakistanis should honor her memory by going forward with the electoral process, and that there should be no postponement of the voting or re-imposition of emergency rule .

But Casey told reporters there is "nothing magic" about the January 8 date, and that the United States would support a finite delay in the voting if that is the consensus view of Pakistanis.

"We believe that if elections can proceed as scheduled, smoothly and safely, then we would certainly encourage that happening," he said. "I think regardless of whether they happen on the 8th or some date shortly thereafter, what's important is that there is a certainty on the part of not only Pakistan's political leadership but the Pakistani people, that there will be a date certain that they will be choosing their new government and leadership."

Casey said he is unaware of any suggestion by officials of the Musharraf government, in post-assassination conversations they had with U.S. officials, that emergency rule might be re-imposed.

The United States strongly opposed President Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule in November which he rescinded earlier this month under international pressure.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley paid separate visits to Pakistan's embassy in Washington Friday to sign a condolence book.

Thursday, Rice made telephone calls to Ms. Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari and to Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the second-ranking official in Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party.