EU urges Musharraf to give up army role, hold poll

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BRUSSELS, Nov 6 (Reuters) The European Union today urged President Pervez Musharraf who has imposed emergency rule in Pakistan to stick to a pledge to step down as army chief this month, restore civil liberties, and hold elections in January.

The Presidency of the 27-nation bloc called for the release of all political prisoners, including members of the judiciary, and for the government to pursue reconciliation with the political opposition and relax curbs on the media.

''The EU is deeply concerned with the declaration of the state of emergency and suspension of Pakistan's constitution and fundamental liberties announced by President Musharraf,'' said a statement by Portugal, holder of the rotating EU Presidency.

''While recognising that Pakistan faces threats to its peace and security, the EU believes that stability and development can only be achieved through democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law,'' it said.

It said the EU had noted a statement by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz that elections would take place, as scheduled, in January, and ''will look forward to the implementation of the necessary conditions to guarantee free and fair elections''.

It urged all parties to show restraint and to work together for a peaceful and democratic solution.

The statement said the EU was particularly concerned by reports of numerous arrests of leaders of political parties, lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and representatives of civil society.

It called for the release of all political prisoners, including Asma Jahangir, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief.

Musharraf declared emergency rule on Saturday, citing a hostile judiciary and rising militancy.

He said yesterday he was ''determined'' to relinquish his military role once he had established harmony between the judiciary, executive and parliament.

Musharraf's move has been widely seen as an attempt to stop any chance of the Supreme Court invalidating his re-election as president by parliament last month on the grounds that he stood while still army chief.

President George W. Bush, who values Musharraf as an ally in his battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban, urged him yesterday to lift the emergency, hold elections and quit as army chief.

REUTERS NC KP2358

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