Zardari seeks US support on Bhutto probe, elections

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Islamabad, Jan 22: Seeking support for his demand for a UN-led probe into the assassination of his wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has urged the US to put pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to ensure that parliamentary elections were held in a free and fair manner.

He urged the Bush administration to ''warn'' Pakistan government that irregularities in the forthcoming elections will have ''consequences''. In a letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which was to be delivered to her today, Mr Zardari also sought US support for his demand for a UN-led probe into the murder of Benazir.

''While the party welcomes the involvement of Scotland Yard in the current investigation, it strongly believes that the horrific nature of this incident warrants the full attention-- and involvement-- by the world community,'' he wrote.

''Only such an involvement can ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime, as well as those who might have tried to cover it up, are brought to justice,'' Mr Zardari wrote ''Without the strong and undivided attention of the international community, particularly the US government, the now postponed elections will not be transparent, free or fair and will only be used to validate a regime that has lost all legitimacy,'' he was quoted as saying in the letter by Dawn.

He also questioned the US government's ''trust'' in the Musharraf government to win the war against terrorism.

''I ask you how effective a regime can be as an ally in the war against terrorism if, after an act of terrorist violence, people feel angrier about their government than they do about the terrorists?,'' he asked.

Mr Zardari said his party would welcome clear and decisive statements by the US administration and the US Congress, putting the government of Pakistan on notice that nothing less than a completely clean election process (on February 18) would be acceptable.

''In fact, the PPP is hopeful that a message will be conveyed to Pakistan's leadership that there will be negative consequences should there be any evidence (that) the voting and vote tabulation processes were compromised in any way,'' he warned.

Mr Zardari also urged the US administration to send a strong message to the Pakistan government that all remaining restrictions on journalists, political parties, lawyers and opposition party activists be removed immediately if these entities were to participate fully in the electoral process.

Those opposition party members, judges and lawyers still in jail on trumped-up charges, must be released immediately, he demanded.

Mr Zardari also demanded that ''partisan'' caretaker governments at the federal and provincial levels be replaced with neutral administrations acceptable to all major political parties.

The Election Commission, which has no representation from two of Pakistan's four provinces, should be reconstituted as well, he said.

Mr Zardari urged the Secretary of State to use her influence to ensure that action was taken on all the points he raised in his letter.


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