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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 November 2007, 18:48 GMT
Musharraf vows polls in February
Lawyers protest in Islamabad
Rallies in Islamabad have been led by lawyers

Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections before 15 February, President Pervez Musharraf says.

Gen Musharraf announced the decision hours after coming under pressure from US President George W Bush to hold elections in January, as scheduled.

But ex-Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto said the announcement was "vague" and designed to buy Gen Musharraf time.

The president imposed a state of emergency on Saturday, blaming militant violence and an unruly judiciary.

On Wednesday, Mr Bush had telephoned the Pakistani leader to urge him to call off the state of emergency and stand down as head of the army.

"My message was that we believe strongly in elections and that you ought to have elections soon and you need to take off your uniform... so I had a very frank discussion with him," Mr Bush said.

But he also noted that Gen Musharraf had been an "indispensable ally".

You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time
President Bush to Gen Musharraf

Gen Musharraf told state media: "General elections in the country will be held by February 15 next year... It was my commitment and I am fulfilling it."

He also renewed a pledge to quit as head of the army, if and when the Supreme Court validated his recent election as president for another term.

"When they allow this notification, that is the time when I can take the oath as president and remove the uniform," he said after chairing a meeting of the National Security Council.

The situation in Pakistan is deteriorating more than most people imagine
Omer Salim Khan, Lahore

A government spokesman also said a media blackout would be eased, with international channels like the BBC and CNN allowed back on air.

The White House welcomed Thursday's development. It was "a good thing that President Musharraf has clarified the election date for the Pakistani people", Reuters quoted a spokeswoman as saying.

Opposition arrests

But Ms Bhutto, head of the main opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), said the new pledges did not go far enough.

She told the BBC: "I think he understands he is under pressure, but I think he would like to break the domestic and international momentum which has built up, and therefore I think he is trying to buy time until next February.

"I am going to look at his statement more closely, but on a first-opinion basis I can say that it's too vague."

President Pervez Musharraf
Gen Musharraf imposed emergency rule after months of unrest

Earlier the PPP said more than 700 party members had been arrested overnight ahead of a huge public rally planned for Rawalpindi, close to the capital, Islamabad, on Friday.

Ms Bhutto has been a key focus for opposition to emergency rule, insisting that Gen Musharraf restore the constitution, hold elections and resign as head of the army.

She is also demanding the release of lawyers, judges and activists detained in the past few days.

However, the BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says other major opposition parties have not responded to Ms Bhutto's call for united action.

Rally threat

The authorities have warned that police will not allow the Rawalpindi demonstration to go ahead.

Rawalpindi mayor Javed Akhlas said: "We will ensure that they don't violate the ban on rallies, and if they do it, the government will take action according to the law."

Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto wants elections to be held on schedule

He told the Associated Press news agency there was a "strong threat" of another suicide bomb attack against Ms Bhutto, who survived an assassination attempt in Karachi on 18 October that killed more than 140 people.

Meanwhile, five more people in Karachi have been charged with sedition for allegedly making comments and distributing leaflets against emergency rule.

Hasil Bizinjo and Ayub Qureshi, two leaders of a Baloch grouping, the National Party, Yusuf Mastikhan of the National Workers' Party and union leaders Farid Awan and Yusuf Sahi were formally charged on Thursday and remanded in custody for two weeks.

A lawyer for the Baloch politicians, Arif Mohammad Khan, told the BBC the police report charged them with raising anti-government slogans and inciting people to violence in a gathering outside the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.

Eight lawyers who are at large, including one woman, were charged with sedition in the city on Wednesday.

Meanwhile the man sacked by Gen Musharraf as chief justice of the Supreme Court on Saturday, Iftikhar Chaudhry, says he does not recognise the move.

"I am still the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the judges are still the judges under the constitution, and no-one can limit our freedom of movement," he told the BBC's Urdu service.

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