The US ambassador to Pakistan urged the country's election commissioner yesterday to set a schedule for a general election to dispel doubts arising from the imposition of emergency rule by President Pervez Musharraf.
Ambassador Anne Patterson said in a statement she met the commissioner "to reiterate the strong US interest in ensuring parliamentary elections take place as planned in January."
US President George W. Bush, who values Musharraf as an ally in his battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, urged Pakistan's military ruler on Monday to lift the emergency he had imposed on Saturday, hold elections and quit as army chief.
The US has already put financial support for Pakistan under review and postponed defense cooperations talks with its nuclear-armed ally that had been set for this week.
The US has provided more than US$26 million for voter education, political party development, computerization of voting rolls, training of political poll watchers and domestic and international election observation missions.
Pakistan has received an estimated US$10 billion from the US since joining an alliance against global terrorism in late 2001, much of which has been for the military.
Pakistan's sacked chief justice urged people to "rise up" against Musharraf's emergency rule yesterday, as police cracked down on fresh protests in defiance of an international outcry.
Ousted top judge Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry called on his countrymen to save the Constitution, even as authorities swiftly cut mobile phone coverage in parts of Islamabad as he addressed a meeting of lawyers by telephone.
"I want lawyers to spread my message to the people of Pakistan," he said to cheers from supporters before all lines went dead. "The time for sacrifice has come, to rise up for the supremacy of the Constitution."
Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999 and has since become a key US ally in the "war on terror," cited a meddling judiciary as one of the reasons for the emergency, along with spiralling Islamic militancy.
He called a Cabinet meeting yesterday to discuss the timetable for elections, amid reports of a split in the government about whether to hold them on schedule.
Chaudhry, one of nine judges sacked for refusing to endorse the emergency, said Musharraf's junta was scared of an imminent Supreme Court ruling on the legality of his victory in an Oct. 6 presidential election.
He and the other justices are now under effective house arrest.
The president tried to fire the independent-minded Chaudhry in March, sparking the biggest protests of his eight-year rule. The court reinstated him in July.
Meanwhile, police used batons and tear gas to break up a rally by 1,000 lawyers in the central city of Multan, witnesses said.