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Pakistan Opposition Plans Boycott of Musharraf Referendum - 2002-04-07

An alliance of major political parties in Pakistan plans to boycott a national referendum on whether to extend the rule of military leader and self-appointed President Pervez Musharraf.

President Musharraf plans to hold the referendum next month to decide whether he will remain in power after national elections in October. But this decision has come under fire from major political and religious parties in the country.

Pakistan's main political alliance says it will boycott the referendum. The leader of the 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, says the referendum violates the country's constitution. "We consider it extra-constitutional, illegal, and nowhere in the world there is any instance that a referendum can be called for assuming some political office," Mr. Khan observed. "It has never happened."

Mr. Khan says the alliance will hold peaceful public rallies to counter President Musharraf's campaign for the referendum. "We will try to mobilize public opinion," he said. "Overwhelming majority of our people they are against this decision. Not only ARD, which is the largest political alliance in the country, but also religious parties, human rights organizations and some regional parties, they will oppose this."

Under Pakistan's constitution, a president must be elected by the two houses of parliament and four provincial assemblies.

The anti-government political alliance includes the country's two main parties, headed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Alliance leader Khan says they have asked both the leaders to return from exile to strengthen the anti-referendum campaign.

President Musharraf has already declared he will not allow either former leader to return to Pakistan and contest elections.