Bush hasn't called Musharraf over 'mistake'

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WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) President George W Bush has not telephoned Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf since he imposed emergency rule and cracked down on protesters in a crisis that the White House called a ''mistake.'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also described the situation in Pakistan as a setback and a crisis in its ''early days,'' and said it was premature to call Musharraf a dictator.

She rebuffed questions about why Bush had not picked up the phone to personally speak to Musharraf, who he considers a key ally in fighting terrorism, by saying Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was taking the lead.

Hundreds of lawyers, opposition politicians and political activists were detained after Musharraf declared emergency rule on Saturday.

''President Musharraf, we believe, has made a mistake. We are gravely concerned about the situation,'' Perino said yesterday.

''We are calling for an immediate return to civilian rule, and we are in communication with them because we have a lot of cooperative interests.'' The United States views Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, as a key ally in fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban. But at the same time, the Bush administration has stressed that Musharraf should take greater steps toward democracy, including giving up his post as army chief.

''The president feels very strongly that President Musharraf knows exactly how he feels about the situation,'' Perino said.

The White House response to the crisis in Pakistan has been contrasted to Myanmar's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters when Bush and his wife, Laura, repeatedly spoke out to condemn the actions of Myanmar's military rulers.

Asked about the apparent double standard, Perino said: ''I can understand why that question would be asked, but I think everyone has to remember that we're in the early days of a crisis.'' Pakistan has been moving on a path to democracy, she said.

''Democracies take time to develop. It is not easy. And this is certainly a setback.'' Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, called for the Bush administration to take a clearer stance on the situation in Pakistan rather than the ''mixed messages'' it has sent.

''The US needs to help stabilize Pakistan. But we must do so consistent with our values and Musharraf's own promises to democratize,'' she said in a statement. ''Doing otherwise further weakens him -- and our standing in the world.'' REUTERS MP AS0401

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