STRASBOURG, France, Nov 14 (Reuters) The European Union called on Pakistan's military ruler again today to end the state of emergency and set a firm date for elections, but said now was not the time to cut aid to the country.
President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally of the West who took power in a 1999 coup, plunged his nuclear-armed nation into crisis on November 3 when he declared emergency rule, suspended the constitution, detained thousands of opponents and curbed the media.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the situation was ''very serious.'' ''It is of fundamental importance that a firm date for elections is announced as soon as possible, as well as a clear timeframe for ending the emergency,'' she said.
Ferrero-Waldner said there had been calls for a review of EU aid, but noted that this support focused on areas such as poverty reduction and education.
''Therefore I think at this stage, let us sit back and let us wait for a moment and let us judge very carefully,'' she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. ''We should not jeopardise the poor people in Pakistan.'' Some members of the assembly proposed that aid be channelled through non-governmental organisations rather than the state, others said sanctions should be prepared in case Musharraf failed to respond to appeals.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is due in Pakistan late this week to urge Musharraf to end the emergency.
He warned last week against cutting aid to an ''indispensable'' ally in the war against Islamist extremism.
Speaking for the EU presidency, Portuguese Secretary of State for Europe Manuel Lobos Antunes and leaders of the parliament's political groups also stressed Pakistan's importance as an ally.
Musharraf said at the weekend a national election would take place by January 9, but did not say when the constitution would be restored or the emergency lifted.
The European Union has been considering sending a mission to observe the elections. Ferrero-Waldner said this would not be possible unless the state of emergency was lifted quickly, but it might be possible to send a smaller team of advisers.
The EU's executive Commission has committed 500 million euros (733 million dollar) in aid to Pakistan since 1976. For 2002-2006 this included 59 million euros for education, 50 million for financial sector reforms, 6 million for trade development and 5 million for prevention of child labour.
REUTERS PY VC2344