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Pakistan's President Promises Free, Fair Elections

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is pledging that next week's parliamentary elections will be free, fair, transparent and peaceful. During a speech in Islamabad, Mr. Musharraf denied allegations the vote will be rigged and blasted international polling organizations who say his popularity is plummeting. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details.

In a speech broadcast nationally on state television, President Musharraf called next Monday's parliamentary vote "the mother of all elections".

Mr. Musharraf said the success of the vote will be critical to Pakistan's future and the nation's international reputation.

"Free, fair and transparent and they are seen to be free, fair and transparent and peaceful. Now as far as peaceful is concerned they will be peaceful," he said. "Let this serve as a warning to all those who think that they can disturb the peace of the country. They will not be allowed. Do not test the resolve of the government."

There are deep concerns about security for the elections, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last December and a wave of suicide bombings at campaign gatherings.

Leading opposition politicians in Pakistan, like former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, have charged that the elections will be rigged in favor of political parties that support the president, who fears losing power in parliament.

Mr. Musharraf's presidency is not being contested in the election, but if parties that back him lose control of the legislature, he could be impeached.

Mr. Musharraf is rejecting charges the election results will be manipulated.

"Media or international organizations understand this role," said the Pakistani president. "Do not create an environment where automatically [there is] aspersion [slander] that this has been rigged and these elections are a fraud."

Recent public opinion polls are showing a significant drop in President Musharraf's popularity and an increase in support for opposition parties.

In his speech, the Pakistani president was sharply critical of the international organizations that have been conducting the surveys.

"Declaring winning parties, candidates, is malicious," said Mr. Musharraf. "It is malicious. It disturbs our peace. It can not be done. It must not be done because you are giving unnecessary hopes, expectations, raising expectations of parties and people. I would like to say to all these foreign organizations, especially those who are conducting all these surveys, do not disturb the peace of this country. Do not disturb the peace of this region. You are playing with the peace of the world."

The retired army general, who seized power in a 1999 coup and has become a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, says dictatorship is not suitable for Pakistan and democracy is the right way forward for the nation.

Tens of thousands of army troops have deployed across the country to help provide security for the voting.

The government says more than 1,000 international election observers and journalists will be in Pakistan for the elections.