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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 August 2005, 02:26 GMT 03:26 UK
Victory claimed in Pakistan polls
Voters queue in Karachi
Reports suggest varied levels of turnout across the country
Supporters of President Pervez Musharraf say they have won a convincing victory in local elections in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Muslim League says it has won in two of the country's four provinces, and made gains elsewhere.

Opposition parties say the elections have been marked by widespread electoral fraud.

Final results will indicate Gen Musharraf's political strength ahead of general elections scheduled for 2007.

The voting for the local councils was held in two stages, both of which were marked by violence and many deaths.

Officially, political parties were not allowed to participate in the polls but in practice they did support candidates.

'Confidence'

The PML is saying it has swept the board in Punjab province, and is in a commanding position in Sind province.

"The Pakistan Muslim League and our allies have won the local bodies elections after a tough competition," Information Minister Sheik Rashid told the AFP news agency.

Quotas for women will change the complexion of local councils

"The results show that people have reposed confidence in President Musharraf and his policies of enlightened moderation."

PML Secretary General Mushahid Hussain said the party had also uprooted the Islamic groups from some of their traditional strongholds in the North West Frontier Province and were better placed in the province of Baluchistan.

Correspondents say many candidates may switch allegiances when local administrations are formed towards the end of September.

Quota system

Both secular and religious opposition parties denounced the voting process.

"The results are totally managed, planned and rigged," Liaquat Baluch of the six-party MMA religious alliance said, Reuters news agency reports.

"It shows that free and fair elections are not possible in the presence of Gen Musharraf."

The elections took place in 110 districts across the country.

These are the second such elections since President Pervez Musharraf took power in Pakistan in 1999.

A record 218,000 candidates, including more than 55,000 women, contested the elections.

Some 40 people were killed in the two rounds of voting.

Tens of thousands of army soldiers, paramilitary troops and police were deployed to guard polling stations.

A specific quota for women and minorities encouraged their greater participation in the polls.

The present system of local governments was introduced by President Musharraf four years ago in a bid to establish 'grassroots democracy'.

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad says the system has been well received by people because it promises the transfer of administrative and financial powers to lower tiers of electoral bodies.

Most opposition parties, however, are critical of the local government system.

They accuse President Musharraf of using the system to undermine the parliamentary democracy and perpetuate his own rule.


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