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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Musharraf Promises January Vote

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's military ruler said Sunday that elections would be held by January but set no time limit on emergency rule that has suspended citizens' rights, claiming that it was essential for fighting terrorism and ensuring a free and fair vote.

But opposition parties said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's sweeping powers, which have led to thousands of arrests, would only make a mockery of the democratic process.

In his first major news conference since suspending the constitution a week ago, Musharraf bristled at criticism of his commitment to restoring democracy and was unapologetic about his decision to purge the top ranks of the judiciary, which had challenged his dominance.

He declared that the current parliament would be dissolved in the coming week, paving the way for elections to be held on schedule, despite earlier concerns they could be delayed by up to a year.

"We should have elections before the 9th of January," Musharraf told reporters at his presidential residence in Islamabad.

The army chief imposed a state of emergency on Nov. 3, citing the growing threat posed by Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants. But critics say the move was aimed at extending his grip on power, saying the main targets of his crackdown so far have been human rights workers, political activists and lawyers.

Musharraf will please his Western allies with his announcement of early elections, but could worry them with his refusal to commit to a date for lifting the emergency, which many observers and critics here say is tantamount to martial law.

"How can the elections be held in a free and fair manner when the emergency is in place?" asked Zafar Ali Shah, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party, noting that public gatherings are currently illegal.

Others expressed concerns about intimidation and threats of further arrests.

Musharraf said opposition supporters who had been rounded up since the emergency would be released to take part in the polls, but warned that they could be detained again.

Anyone who "disturbs law and order and wants to create anarchy in the name of elections and democracy, we will not allow that," he said.

His comments followed his decision to amend a law to give army courts sweeping powers to try civilians on charges ranging from treason to inciting public unrest.