In Pakistan, authorities set April 30 as the date for a national referendum called by self-appointed President Pervez Musharraf on extending his rule for another five years. Authorities announced the date as General Musharraf held his first public rally to appeal for support.

General Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, and later appointed himself president. The country's highest court endorsed his action, but ordered him to restore democracy within three years.

President Musharraf announced in a televised speech to the nation last week that he would hold the referendum. He reiterated his commitment to hold general elections in October. But he said he wants to stay in power to ensure that his economic, social and political reforms are not reversed by the future elected government.

All major political and religious parties in Pakistan have rejected the referendum as unconstitutional, and have called for a boycott. They say the country's constitution demands the president be elected by members of the two houses of parliament and four provincial assemblies.

General Musharraf has suspended the constitution, and has banned outdoor activities by political parties.

However, the military leader held a public rally in the eastern city of Lahore on Tuesday, launching what is effectively his election campaign. He urged the participants of the government-sponsored meeting to support his presidency in the referendum.

Analysts say General Musharraf is likely to win the referendum, but only by mobilizing the state-machinery and keeping a tight control on activities of political parties opposing the move.