Bush Presses Musharraf to Hold Elections

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 8, 2007; 1:58 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, personally intervening in the political crisis in Pakistan, told President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday he must hold parliamentary elections soon and step down as army leader.

"You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time," Bush said, describing a 20-minute telephone call with Musharraf. "I had a very frank discussion with him."

It was Bush's first contact with Musharraf since he declared emergency rule on Saturday and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush political dissent.

"My message was very plain, very easy to understand, and that is, the United States wants you to have the elections as scheduled and take your uniform off," Bush said during a news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy held at George Washington's home in Mount Vernon, Va.

For days, the White House has faced questions about why Bush was taking a softer line on Pakistan than he did, for instance, against Myanmar where military rulers cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in September.

Bush defended his response to both governments.

"Look, our objective is the same in Burma as it is in Pakistan, and that is to promote democracy," Bush said. "There is a difference, however. Pakistan has been on the path to democracy. Burma hadn't been on the path to democracy. And it requires different tactics to achieve the common objective."

Musharraf, who has been promising to restore democracy since seizing power in a 1999 coup, has ousted independent-minded judges, put a stranglehold on the media and has put thousands of Pakistanis in jail or under house arrest since assuming emergency powers last weekend. Musharraf said his decisions to suspend the constitution and oust its top judge were necessary to prevent a takeover by Islamic extremists.

"My message was that we believe strongly in elections, and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform," Bush said.

The White House would not disclose details of the call or Musharraf's response.

"President Musharraf listened carefully and heard what President Bush had to say," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council. He said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked with Musharraf on Monday. "The president felt like he should give him a call today and reiterate his position," Johndroe said.

Sarkozy said France also was concerned about the rising instability in Pakistan and urged Musharraf to hold elections as quickly as possible.

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