Musharraf defies mounting protests

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The Independent Online

Eleven days after suspending the Pakistani constitution and sacking the Supreme Court, General Pervez Musharraf robustly defended his decision yesterday, indicating emergency rule would continue into next year.

Benazir Bhutto had earlier called on him to resign from the presidency and ruled out sharing power with him, but in a series of interviews with Western media, he accused the former prime minister, who is under house arrest in Lahore, of fuelling tensions.

General Musharraf said he had no choice but to remain in power and to lead Pakistan into democracy. He could not stand aside while political turbulence persisted. "When there is no turmoil in Pakistan, I will step down....I am not a dictator, I want democracy."

He said he expected to stand down as army chief by the end of November, and pledged that parliamentary elections would proceed by 9 January, 2008, telling The New York Times: "The emergency is to ensure elections go in an undisturbed manner". He was originally scheduled to quit his army post by today when his current presidential term expired.

Dismissing threats from Commonwealth governments that Pakistan could be expelled from the organisation over his suspension of the constitution he told The Associated Press: "I take decisions in Pakistan's interest and I don't take ultimatums from anyone," he said. He also said the army would continue to support him. "They follow me not because of the rank but because of the respect that they hold for me. I have no doubt on the loyalty of this army," he said.

A high-level US envoy, John Negroponte, the deputy Secretary of State, is due in Islamabad within days where he will continue to push Washington's argument that General Musharraf should proceed with elections as soon as possible.

Whether Mr Negroponte can achieve more than the telephone calls made by his direct boss, Condoleezza Rice, is unclear.