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The BBC' Owen Bennett-Jones reports
"Still no date for a national election"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 18:54 GMT
'Pakistan needs to do more'

General Musharraf at the annual military parade
Britain and the United States have said Pakistan's decision to hold local elections is a positive one - but more needs to be done.

Pakistan in crisis
The two countries were responding to Thursday's announcement by military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, detailing plans for local elections starting in December.

"This is a step in the right direction and I hope that a timetable for provincial and national elections will follow soon," UK Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said.

A spokesman for President Clinton, who is on a visit to India, said: "It is a positive step but what we are looking for is a roadmap to national elections and a restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan."

I do not need approval from anyone. I am working in the national interest, these are national issues and everything else is secondary

General Musharraf
General Musharraf said he was not concerned with international pressure over the need to return Pakistan to democratic rule.

"I do not need approval from anyone. I am working in the national interest, these are national issues and everything else is secondary."

Devolving power

General Musharraf said district-level polls would be held from December until May next year, to be followed by a separate round in July 2001.

National elections would follow at an unspecified date.

The election timetable
Local elections to be held from December to May 2001
Second round of district elections in July 2001
Voting age reduced from 21 to 18 years
No timetable for national elections announced
He said he wanted to devolve power from the centre in order to restore people's confidence in the government.

The general said there would be an unprecedented transfer of power from the elite to the majority.

But he could not restore democracy sooner, because the electoral lists had become totally inaccurate and needed to be redrawn.

"From here, we will move forward step by step to provincial and national levels, in due course of time," General Musharraf said.

"In the second and third stages, provincial assemblies are to be followed by elections of the National Assembly and the Senate."

General Musharraf: Unconcerned with international pressure
All district level elections are to be conducted on a non-party basis, and the minimum voting age will be lowered from 21 to 18 years.

The general also said he would also set up special courts for women at district level.

The military government has been saying for many months that it plans to reform Pakistan's electoral lists and to hold local elections by the end of this year.

The general's news conference came shortly after the military parade, during which men from the army, navy and air force marched through the centre of Islamabad, displaying their latest equipment, including short and medium-range missiles.

Clinton visit

The announcement of an election timetable comes two days before US President Bill Clinton is due to make a brief visit to Pakistan.

BBC Islamabad correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones says General Musharraf's announcement is doubtless timed with the visit in mind.

The Pakistani leader also outlined what he would be saying to Mr Clinton on Saturday.

Referring to Kashmir, General Musharraf said the US must assist in trying to restore peace to South Asia by addressing the causes of all strife in the region.

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See also:

23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Waiting for democracy
13 Oct 99 | South Asia
Profile: General Pervez Musharraf
09 Mar 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Musharraf's record in power
14 Jan 00 | South Asia
Pakistan urges US role in Kashmir
13 Oct 99 | South Asia
US calls for democracy in Pakistan
15 Mar 00 | South Asia
Pakistan ban on political rallies
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