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Last Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007, 02:04 GMT
US hails Pakistan leader's pledge
President Musharraf addresses nation
Mr Musharraf insisted January general elections would go ahead

The US has welcomed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's pledge to lift a state of emergency on 16 December.

President George W Bush said the move was "an essential step towards getting Pakistan on the road to democracy".

But Washington urged Pakistan's leader to go further and ensure free and fair parliamentary elections in January.

President Musharraf, who took power in a coup in 1999, was sworn in for a new term as a civilian head of state on Thursday after resigning as army chief.

The US, which regards Pakistan as a close ally in its war on terror, denied that Mr Musharraf had been pressurised into lifting the emergency or into giving up his military uniform.

Next move

In an address to the nation, Mr Musharraf urged all parties to take part in the elections.

Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have come back, and a level playing field has been given
President Musharraf

He insisted that the general election would be held on schedule "come hell or high water" and that it would be open for monitoring by international observers.

He welcomed the return of his political rivals Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan, saying it would be "good for the political reconciliation".

Ms Bhutto said her opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP) would take part in the 8 January poll to try to keep it free and fair.

But Mr Sharif said he and his allies would take no part in the elections unless judges sacked under emergency rule were reinstated and wanted other political parties to do the same.

The pair are now expected to hold talks to decide what to do next.

The two former prime ministers have already filed papers to contest the elections. They can formally withdraw their nominations by 15 December at the latest.

'Conspiracy'

For Thursday's ceremony and TV address, Pervez Musharraf wore a black traditional suit (sherwani) instead of a military uniform - which he had given up a day earlier.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Musharraf has served Pakistan well and seen us through some tough times
Arshad, Islamabad

He was elected to a second term as president by the country's parliament and provincial assemblies in October. The legitimacy of the vote has been hotly contested.

Mr Musharraf told the nation he had declared emergency rule on 3 November because "the very existence of our nation was in danger".

"I was elected with 57% votes and there was a conspiracy to abort that," he said, in an apparent reference to the Supreme Court which was hearing legal challenges to his re-election.

One of President Musharraf's first moves under emergency rule was to sack the judges. A reshaped court later dismissed all the legal challenges he had faced.

'Continued struggle'

Mr Musharraf also said on Thursday that there had been an "explosion of terrorism", which emergency rule had helped deal with.

People in Pakistan give their rections as Musharraf quits as head of the army

"I think now things have improved, the administration is now on the right track and terrorism has been brought under control," he said.

"Now, I'm fully determined that the emergency will be lifted on 16 December.

As he was being sworn in, about 200 lawyers opposed to his rule clashed violently with police in Lahore.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says the civilian investiture does not mean an end to Mr Musharraf's difficulties.

The state of emergency has alienated much of the secular middle class, while an Islamist insurgency has also gained strength under his rule, she says.

If his opponents join forces against him, he could be in real trouble, our correspondent says. If not, he might be able to play them off against each other. Either way, the president will continue to struggle with the political crisis.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
President Pervez Musharraf's television appearance



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