Pakistan Tense on Eve of Crucial Elections

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani politicians made final preparations over the weekend for general elections Monday that could usher in a parliament intent on forcing U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf from power.

Authorities imposed a curfew in a northwestern town after 40 were killed in a suicide bomb attack on supporters of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Saturday.

Fears of militant violence have overshadowed the campaign, which officially ended at midnight Saturday, especially after opposition leader Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack on Dec. 27 as she left a rally in Rawalpindi.

Voting was postponed from Jan. 8 after Bhutto's death, which raised fears about the nuclear-armed country's stability.

Saturday's suicide blast in Parachinar, near the Afghan border, was the most bloody attack in the campaign and looked bound to compound fears of election-day violence that analysts say could hurt turnout.

"The election won't make any difference. There's no chance of any improvement as long as Musharraf is around," said Ahmed Khan, a 33-year-old shopkeeper in the town of Taxila, near Islamabad.

Musharraf is not taking part in the elections for a new parliament and provincial assemblies, but his rule looks set to be a decisive factor.

A hostile parliament could challenge Musharraf's October re-election for another five-year term by legislators. That could herald turmoil.

Musharraf's popularity was hurt when he tried to dismiss the country's top judge in March, then took a dive in November when he imposed six weeks of emergency rule to stymie legal challenges to his re-election.