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Archive for Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Pakistan election delayed one month following unrest

January 2, 2008

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Pakistani children participate in a candle-lit ceremony in memory of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Lahore, Pakistan. Pakistan's election commission on Tuesday postponed next week's parliamentary voting until February.

Pakistani children participate in a candle-lit ceremony in memory of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Lahore, Pakistan. Pakistan's election commission on Tuesday postponed next week's parliamentary voting until February.

— Pakistan elections will be delayed by one month following the turmoil sparked by Benazir Bhutto's assassination, despite opposition threats of street protests unless the crucial vote is held Jan. 8 as originally planned, a top official said Tuesday.

A senior Election Commission official told The Associated Press that the commission has agreed on a new date. He indicated it would not be before the second week of February, but refused to disclose the exact schedule before the formal announcement today.

The opposition is likely to accuse authorities of postponing the polls to help the ruling party, which is allied to President Pervez Musharraf. Many believe Bhutto's party could get a sympathy boost if the vote takes place on time. Bhutto had accused elements in the ruling party of plotting to kill her, a charge which it vehemently denies.

The killing of Bhutto, a former prime minister, triggered three days of nationwide riots that killed 58 people and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. Bhutto's home province of Sindh was especially hard hit and the army was called on the streets. Ten election offices were burned.

"We need at least one month to make arrangements to hold free and fair elections after the damage caused to our offices in the Sindh province," the official said, adding that the commission had already consulted the main political parties about the delay. He spoke on condition of anonymity

Meanwhile, a top aide of Bhutto revealed that on the day she was killed, the opposition leader was planning to give two U.S. lawmakers a 160-page dossier accusing the government of rigging the elections.

Bhutto was killed Thursday evening in a shooting and bombing attack on her vehicle as she left a campaign rally. She had been scheduled to meet hours later with U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.

Sen. Latif Khosa, a lawmaker from Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party, said she had planned to give the lawmakers a report outlining complaints on "pre-poll rigging" by Musharraf's government and the military-run Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Khosa said he did not know whether Bhutto's killing was linked to her plans to release the document. Officials at the Information Ministry and the Interior Ministry declined comment. The government has denied charges of vote rigging and said it had nothing to do with Bhutto's death.

In another development, the Pakistani government backed off earlier statements that Bhutto died not from a bullet but because the force from a suicide blast forced her head into a sunroof crank, crushing her skull.

Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz even asked people and the media to forgive and ignore the comment made Friday night about the sunroof by Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema.

Cheema told CNN he based his statement about the sunroof lever "on the initial investigations and the reports by the medical doctors" who treated Bhutto. He said the ministry would wait for forensic investigators to finish their report before making any more conclusions about her cause of death.

"I was just narrating the facts, you know, and nothing less, nothing more," he said Tuesday.

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