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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Bush urges fair Pakistan election
Pakistani paramilitaries in North-West Frontier province
The security situation in the north-west of Pakistan has deteriorated
US President George W Bush has urged Pakistan to hold free and fair elections, after its president stepped back from imposing emergency rule.

There had been mounting speculation that President Pervez Musharraf was considering the move, after he called off a visit to Afghanistan.

Pakistan is facing an increasingly volatile security situation, as well as internal political problems.

Mr Bush also urged Gen Musharraf to act on intelligence on top terror suspects.

Mr Bush said the Pakistani leader shared Americans' concern about radicals and extremists.

'Committed to democracy'

Correspondents say the US has been pushing for the elections to go ahead as a way of strengthening the legitimacy of Gen Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

I have indicated to him that the American people would expect there to be swift action taken, if there's actionable intelligence on high-value targets inside his country
President Bush

"My focus in terms of the domestic scene there is that he have a free and fair election and that's what we have been talking to him about and hopefully they will," Mr Bush said at a White House news conference.

A Pakistani government spokesman said there was pressure on Gen Musharraf to declare an emergency but that he had decided not to because he was "committed to democracy".

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says Gen Musharraf's popularity has dwindled and there are fears of a legal challenge to his attempts to seek another term of office.

It seems he decided a state of emergency was not the right move at the right time, she says, although a conversation with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday evening may have helped persuade him.

'Difficult circumstances'

Tensions in Pakistan soared last month after a siege by government troops of Islamabad's radical Red Mosque ended with the deaths of more than 100 people.

President Musharraf addressing a student gathering in Islamabad in July
Gen Musharraf faces increasing unrest and opposition at home
The security situation in the country's volatile north-west, bordering Afghanistan, has deteriorated.

But Junior Information Minister Tariq Azeem said US threats to launch an operation in the tribal areas had also played a role in the issue being discussed.

Mr Bush said he expected Gen Musharraf to act against al-Qaeda leaders who the US says are sheltering in the areas. Pakistan has called the US warnings "irresponsible and dangerous".

"I have indicated to him that the American people would expect there to be swift action taken, if there's actionable intelligence on high-value targets inside his country," Mr Bush said.

"Now I recognise that Pakistan is a sovereign nation and it's important for Americans to recognise that, but it's also important for Americans to understand that he shares the same concern about radicals and extremists as I do and as the American people do."

Elections threat

Emergency rule would have limited the role of the courts, restricted civil liberties and curbed freedom of expression.

The president would have also been able to postpone national elections due to be held later in 2007, which could have enabled him to continue in his role as chief of Pakistan's powerful military.

Opposition political parties, like Pakistan's largest party, the PPP, want Gen Musharraf to give up the army role.

Gen Musharraf pulled out of the three-day Afghan council, or peace jirga, on combating the Taleban, citing commitments in Islamabad.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is attending in his place.

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