Pakistan awaits election decision, stocks fall

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KARACHI, Dec 31 (Reuters) Pakistani electoral officials hold an emergency meeting today to decide whether to go ahead with a January poll in a nation plunged into crisis by the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto's killing in a suicide attack on Thursday has stoked bloodshed across the country and rage against President Pervez Musharraf, casting doubts on nuclear-armed Pakistan's stability and its transition to civilian rule.

Pakistani stocks fell around 4.5 per cent in early trade today as Bhutto's assassination worried investors that political instability could damage the 145 billion dollar economy.

The markets had been closed for three days of mourning.

''This was inevitable,'' said Asad Iqbal, managing director at Ismail Iqbal Securities Ltd. ''Most small investors are trying to get out due to the events of last week.'' A promising investment story less than a year ago, Pakistan is now gripped by fears of capital flight if security worsens.

The death toll from violence since Bhutto's killing has reached 47.

Yesterday, Bhutto's party chose her son and husband to succeed her, but doubts grew about whether the parliamentary election aiming to shift Pakistan from military to civilian rule would take place as planned on January 8.

Her 19-year-old son Bilawal, introduced at a news conference in Naudero in the south as Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said the party's long struggle for democracy would avenge her death. ''My mother always said, democracy is the best revenge,'' he said.

''SITUATION SHAKY'' Major Pakistani cities stirred back to life today for the first time since Bhutto's assassination, emerging from the unrest that had paralysed trade and commerce.

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