Britain demands 'free and fair' elections but rules out aid cuts

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Britain led international calls for President Pervez Musharraf to resign as head of the army and guarantee that “free and fair” democratic elections will take place next year, but stopped short of ordering a cut in aid over his declaration of emergency rule.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said General Musharraf should end the confusion after the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, said the elections would go ahead as scheduled.

Declaring it “a defining moment” for the country and its relationship with the world, Mr Miliband said: “President Musharraf has the opportunity to be absolutely clear about the election date, about his own position as civilian leader, and about media freedoms and human rights.

“We have had no assurance. We have conveyed our view very strongly to the Pakistan government,” Mr Miliband added. “Now is the time for President Musharraf to be absolutely clear that elections will go ahead on 15 January on a free and fair basis and he will resign as head of the army.”

Downing Street said the possibility of sanctions including cutting aid to Pakistan was “under review” but the Foreign Secretary ruled out any immediate move to cut the aid budget.

“Now is not the time for threats to aid for the Pakistani people. It is important we made the commitments we have to the doubling of aid to Pakistan,” he said.

Officials said much of the aid was directed at education, and tackling the extreme radicalism of Muslim schools in Pakistan, linked with terrorism.

Mr Miliband said there was now a “unanimous view” in the international community that democracy and human rights needed to be restored. Mr Miliband had spoken to his |counterparts in Pakistan, France and Germany, and to the US |Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, as well as to the Pakistani opposition party leader, Benazir Bhutto.

In London, demonstrators protested outside the Pakistan high commission, calling for the constitution to be restored. About 80 people gathered , waving banners and chanting slogans including “Go Musharraf Go”.

One of the demonstrators called on the Pakistani high commissioner, Maleeha Lodhi, to resign and join the protest.

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