Rice urges Pakistan to end state of emergency

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WASHINGTON, Nov 11 (Reuters) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today called on President Pervez Musharraf to end the state of emergency in Pakistan but said the United States would not abandon a key ally in fighting extremism.

Pledges by Musharraf to shed his army uniform and hold elections by early January were ''essential to getting Pakistan back on a democratic path'' but were only initial steps, Rice said.

''We are also encouraging that the state of emergency has got to be lifted and lifted as soon as possible,'' she told ABC's ''This Week'' program.

Musharraf, under pressure from rivals and Western allies to put nuclear-armed Pakistan back on a path to democracy, said today a general election would be held by January 9 but under a state of emergency he imposed eight days ago.

The army chief also told a news conference he would quit the military and be sworn in as a civilian president as soon as the Supreme Court struck down challenges to his October 6 re-election.

Rice said Washington wants Musharraf, a US ally, ''make sure that people can compete for free and fair elections for the parliament, to start to establish that there is a moderate center in Pakistan that will be equally committed to fighting terrorism and fighting extremism.'' US President George W Bush said today he was taking Musharraf at his word that elections would be held by early next year but he also emphasized that Washington needed Pakistan's cooperation in fighting al Qaeda.

NO ABANDONING PAKISTAN US aid programs that have delivered nearly 10 billion dollars to Pakistan since the Sept 11 attacks were being reviewed as required by law, Rice said.

She insisted US aid was going to good use combating the threat of Islamic extremism by building up Pakistan's military and promoting economic and educational reforms to foster a more moderate Pakistan.

''This is clearly a situation that is not perfect,'' she said.

''But if the suggestion is that we somehow now abandon a course that could lead back to a path of democracy for Pakistan, I think that would be a mistake on our part.'' After a US withdrawal from the region following the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, ''we got a failed state in Afghanistan and we got in Pakistan a more extreme circumstance,'' Rice said.

Sen Joe Biden of Delaware, a Democratic presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for a ''real hard look'' at Pakistan's performance in fighting extremism along with monitoring Musharraf's upholding his election pledge.

''We should condition our aid on the fight against terrorism on evidence they're actually fighting terrorism and not fighting their own people,'' he said on CNN's ''Late Edition'' show.

Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, cited a hostile judiciary and rising militancy as the reasons for imposing authoritarian measures on November 3.

He has sacked most of the country's judges, put senior ones under house arrest and ordered police to round up most of the opposition leadership and anyone else deemed troublesome.

Musharraf also has placed curbs on media. Private news channels are off the air and transmissions of BBC and CNN have been blocked, although newspapers are publishing freely.

REUTERS SBC RAI2330

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