01/02/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pakistani elections delayed till 18 February

by Qaiser Felix
Election Commission postpones polls by six weeks because of damages incurred by many polling stations in last week’s violence. Tonight President Musharraf is to speak to the nation. Speculation continues as to the who was behind the Bhutto assassination and why. Former prime minister held a file with intelligence services’ plan to fix the elections.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan's elections will be held on 18 February. Qazi Mohammed Farooq, head of the Election Commission, said it would be impossible to hold the polls on 8 January as scheduled because of the violence and chaos that followed the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

The decision, which had been announced and then put off several times during the week-end, was made public this afternoon at a press conference in Islamabad.

In Sindh province alone, stronghold of the Bhutto dynasty, 13 polling stations were set on fire with all the material, including ballots, going up in smoke.

Today President Pervez Musharraf is expected to address the nation in a televised speech calling on people to stay calm and rally around national unity, this according to his aides.

Opposition parties, the Pakistan people’s Party (PPP) formally under Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) under former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, continue to object to the postponement.

There are fears that the Election Commission’s decision will lead to another wave of violence like last week’s which left 47 people dead across the country.

Meanwhile in the absence of a credible official version of the Bhutto assassination, rumours are rampant about who did it and why.

Sources close to the slain popular leader said that on the day of the attack Ms Bhutto was set to meet important US political leaders to show them a confidential report that accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of using US money and aid to manipulate the elections. US Representative Patrick Kennedy (Dem) and Senator Arlen Specter (Rep) confirmed they were scheduled to meet the former Pakistani Prime Minister.

A spokesperson for President Musharraf rejected the charges, calling them “ridiculous.”

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