Pakistani opposition decry Musharraf election bid

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ISLAMABAD, Sep 21 (Reuters) Several hundred Pakistan opposition activists gathered outside the Supreme Court today to denounce President Pervez Musharraf's bid to win another term in an October 6 election.

About 500 activists, most from an alliance of religious parties, chanted ''Go Musharraf go'' outside the Supreme Court and carried a coffin symbolising what they hope will be the death of military rule.

Army chief Musharraf will seek re-election despite legal challenges to his bid for power in the Supreme Court and slumping popularity.

The opposition has vowed to boycott Musharraf's election by an electoral college made up of members of the two houses of parliament and four provincial assemblies, just before they are o be dissolved for a general election due by mid-January.

''If the Election Commissioner accepts Musharraf's nomination papers, all opposition parties will resign from the National Assembly and provincial assemblies,'' Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a leader of the Islamist alliance, told the crowd.

A walk-out would not derail the vote but it would detract from its legitimacy.

No other prominent politician has declared an intention to stand and nominations must be filed on September 27.

Musharraf, whose main source of power is his military position, said he will retire from the army if elected. On Friday, he appointed a confidante to head the military's main intelligence agency in the first move of an expected reshuffle.

Opposition parties have long been demanding that he give up command of the army and run for office as a civilian.

The English-language Dawn newspaper said it was a great disappointment Musharraf had chosen to ignore those calls.

''He is seeking re-election while in uniform and it is the existing -- or better still, outgoing -- assemblies which will serve as the electoral college,'' it said.

''Unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise the presidential election will go ahead,'' it said.

''PREGNANT WITH POSSIBILITIES'' The Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging Musharraf's right to retain the posts of president and army chief, the legality of being elected in uniform, and whether he should be allowed to get a mandate from out-going assemblies.

The court is expected to issue a ruling next week. A decision to bar Musharraf from re-election would be ''pregnant with possibilities and fraught with consequences'', Dawn said.

Some officials have hinted that if barred from running for re-election, Musharraf could declare emergency rule.

Others have said he could dissolve parliament and seek election from new assemblies, though he has no guarantee of a bloc of support in a new parliament.

Pakistan's main index fell 0.44 per cent to 12,988.12 points on low turnover of 52.34 million shares by 11:45 am IST as cautious investors eyed politics, dealers said.

Compounding the uncertainty has been a surge in militant attacks and abductions of members of the security forces since July when Musharraf ordered commandos to clear armed militants out of a radical Islamabad mosque.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in a Web audiotape issued on Thursday, vowed to retaliate against the ''infidel'' Musharraf for the operation against the Red Mosque. Al Qaeda has in the past called for Musharraf's assassination.

Military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad dismissed the latest call as irrelevant, saying Pakistanis did not support bin Laden. Musharraf has survived at least two assassination bids.

REUTERS JK RAI1306

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