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Interview with Benazir Bhutto

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Published on Nov 28, 2007

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf stepped down as military chief on Wednesday, a move that had been a key demand of his political rivals and Western backers.

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Musharraf will be sworn in as a civilian president on Thursday.

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But it is unclear if or when Musharraf will end Pakistan's current state of emergency rule, in which hundreds of opposition figures and their supporters have been detained and independent media has been silenced.

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During a change of command Wednesday, Musharraf relinquished his post by handing over his ceremonial baton to his successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, a former intelligence chief.

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"[You] are the saviors of Pakistan," Musharraf said in an emotional final speech to the troops. He appeared to be blinking back tears as the guard of honour performed a final march-by.

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Since seizing power in a coup in 1999, Musharraf has served as president while retaining his post as head of the armed forces. Opposition parties had threatened to boycott the January parliamentary election had Musharraf remained in his military post.

Bhutto reserves right to boycott

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Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto said Musharraf showed "courage" by stepping down, but called for emergency rule to be ended immediately.

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"Our media has been gagged," Bhutto told CBC News in a telephone interview Wednesday from Islamabad. "We need those gags to go and the prisoners to be freed."

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She said her party would participate in the January elections, but under protest and while still "reserving the right to boycott at a later date."

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She called for an independent election commission to stop electoral abuses by government officials.

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"There's still as lot to be done as far as fair elections are concerned," she said.

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Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup, said Musharraf's conversion to a civilian president would make "a lot of difference," and he would only refuse to participate in the vote if all opposition parties agreed to do so as well.

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Musharraf's Oct. 6 election for a second five-year term as president was validated last week by the Supreme Court, which has been recently stacked with government-friendly judges after Musharraf purged the panel as part of his emergency measures.

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Musharraf enacted a state of emergency on Nov. 3 for the stated purpose of reining in militancy in the country's northwest. He also accused the Supreme Court of paralyzing the government by overstepping its authority.

Strong opposition

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Analysts say, however, that the emergency rule was an act to hold on to power by clearing the Supreme Court of judges who were expected to rule that his presidency was illegal.

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The general's popularity has been plummeting since March when he tried unsuccessfully to fire the Supreme Court's top judge.

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Political unrest was aggravated when Musharraf imposed emergency rule in November, followed by a crackdown on dissidents and a blackout of independent media.

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Musharraf now faces strong opposition from two former prime ministers who have returned from exile ahead of crucial parliamentary elections - Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

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Both politicians have registered to run in the election slated for Jan. 8, though they have indicated their parties might boycott the vote to undermine its legitimacy.

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The United States government has called for Musharraf, a close U.S. ally, to lift the suspension of the constitution to ensure a fair election.

Brought to you by Mediascrape

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