Pakistan opposition makes election demands

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif said Monday they would issue a list of demands that the government must fulfill to dissuade them from boycotting Pakistan’s elections.

In a show of unity, the opposition leaders said they agreed that the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections would not be free and fair under current conditions – Pakistan has been under emergency rule for a month. Earlier Monday, election officials rejected Sharif’s candidacy.

Bhutto and Sharif stopped short of announcing an immediate boycott to protest U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf’s continued rule and were vague about their common demands.

“We reserve the right to boycott the elections at a later stage,” Bhutto said at a news conference with Sharif after talks at her residence – the first meeting between the two since their recent return from exile. “The ball will be in the court of the regime.”

Sharif said he, like Bhutto, did not want to shun the vote, which the West hopes will produce a moderate government to keep this nuclear-armed nation stable as it battles rising Islamic militancy.

But he said: “This atmosphere doesn’t seem to lead toward free and fair elections.”

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