End emergency rule, US envoy urges Musharraf

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 18 (Reuters) US envoy John Negroponte today said he had urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to end emergency rule, warning it was ''not compatible'' with free and fair elections due by early January.

The US deputy secretary of state met Musharraf yesterday the first high-level meeting of a US official with Washington's crucial ally since he imposed emergency rule on November 3.

''Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections,'' Negroponte told a news conference at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad.

Negroponte said he had also called on Musharraf to release thousands of opposition figures who have been rounded up and imprisoned, and to stick to his word to quit as army chief.

''We welcome President Musharraf's announcement that elections will take place in January, a commitment he repeated to me yesterday in categorical terms. He also repeated his commitment to retire from his army post before commencing his second presidential term, and we urge him to do so as soon as possible.

''Recent political actions against protesters, suppression of the media and the arrests of political and human rights leaders, runs directly counter to reforms that have been undertaken in recent years... I've urged the government of Pakistan to stop such actions, to lift the state of emergency and release all political detainees.'' Negroponte said reconciliation between moderate political forces -- apparently referring to a public rift between Musharraf and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto -- was ''very desirable''.

The United States had hoped the pair, seen as strong allies in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, would end up sharing power after the election, but Bhutto has ruled out working with Musharraf.

REUTERS SG HT0907

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