- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s elections will be delayed by one month after turmoil sparked by Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, despite opposition threats of street protests unless the crucial vote is held Tuesday as originally planned, a top official said yesterday.

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 think Mrs. Bhutto’s party could get a sympathy boost if the vote takes place on time. Mrs. Bhutto had accused elements in the ruling party of plotting to kill her, a charge it vehemently denies.

The killing of Mrs. Bhutto, a former prime minister, triggered three days of nationwide riots that killed 58 persons and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. Mrs. 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 consulted the main political parties about the delay. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the decision.

CNN said it had seen documents prepared by Bhutto advisers claiming the government planned to rig the elections, partly by having supporters attack polling stations in Bhutto strongholds.

Gen. Rashid Qureshi, Mr. Musharraf’s chief spokesman, called the charges “a pack of lies.”

The polls are seen as crucial to restoring democracy after eight years of military rule and following a six-week state of emergency that Mr. Musharraf declared in November.

Opposition groups have demanded that the elections proceed on time, and Nawaz Sharif, leader of another opposition party, threatened street protests if they were postponed.

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