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US says Pakistan needs free and fair elections

The lifting of emergency rule in Pakistan was a good thing but a free election was needed to move the country towards democracy, says Condoleezza Rice.

world Updated: Dec 17, 2007 19:03 IST

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday the lifting of emergency rule in Pakistan by President Pervez Musharraf was a good thing but a free election was needed to move the country towards democracy.

Musharraf, a key ally to the United States in its fight against Al-Qaeda, restored the constitution on Saturday after more than a month of emergency rule in which he sacked judges, locked up lawyers and rounded up thousands of activists.

He said Pakistan would hold a fair election on January 8, but Rice called for a "very robust and concerted effort" to make sure proper political campaigns could take place.

"That means that opposition has to be able to gather and mobilise ... has to have access to the press," she said on her way to a Palestinian donors' conference in Paris.

"And I think that's the next test for Pakistan but it's a good thing that the state of emergency has been lifted."

Musharraf declared emergency rule on November 3, citing a meddling judiciary and violence from militants. The international community condemned his actions, and Rice said now the election would be subject to close scrutiny.

"I think the Pakistanis understand that the international community is going to be watching and that it's important that it be free and fair," she said."

"I think if there are real efforts to make sure that the opposition can act on its own behalf as it prepares for elections that this could be an election that can move Pakistan forward on the democratic road."

When asked whether members of Pakistan's judiciary purged by Musharraf during emergency rule should be reinstated, Rice said that question may have to wait until after the ballot.

"The context is going to change in pretty important ways when these elections are held," she said.

"It is going to be a different and new day in Pakistan and some of these things I think are going to be resolved in the context ... after these elections."