Pakistan's Musharraf files to run for president

( AFP ) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday formally applied to run in the October 6 presidential poll, in a bid for five more years of power that could yet be derailed by the Supreme Court.

Two opposition candidates also filed nomination papers to stand against Musharraf -- a key US ally who seized power in a 1999 coup -- saying that he cannot be re-elected while he remains army chief.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and several cabinet ministers swept up to the election commission in Islamabad in a convoy of black limousines to lodge the nomination on behalf of Musharraf.

Hundreds of riot police and commandos were deployed around the building and at the Supreme Court across the road to guard against protests by the opposition and all key roads were sealed off.

The government has defied international condemnation and detained hundreds of opposition workers in raids which started at the weekend to thwart planned demonstrations.

"Today is a historic day for Pakistan," Aziz told state television.

"This election will strengthen democracy and is in the interest of the nation. The government will take every step to ensure a free, fair and transparent election," he said.

Later hundreds of lawyers chanted "Go Musharraf, go!" and "Death to the chief election commissioner!" as former Supreme Court judge Wajihuddin Ahmad registered for the election.

Ahmad was one of a number of judges who quit rather than swear allegiance to Musharraf when he carried out the coup.

"We have come here to perform a national duty," said Ahmad. "This assembly cannot elect Musharraf."

The vote is to be carried out by the national and provincial parliaments, whose term must end by early 2008 when general elections are due. The opposition wants the president to be elected by new assemblies.

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party also filed the nomination papers of its vice president, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a party spokesman said.

Officials said 10 people had applied to run but most had no nominations and will be eliminated when the papers are officially scrutinised on Sunday.

The Supreme Court is due on Thursday or Friday to finish hearing a string of opposition legal challenges over Musharraf's own eligibility for the election and the legality of his dual military-civilian role.

He has said he will quit as army chief by November 15 and be sworn in as a civilian if he wins -- but has also warned that he will keep his military role if anything stands in his way.

The opposition has taken this as an indication he could impose emergency rule or even martial law if he is barred from standing by the court.

Dissolving parliament for up to a year is another option, analysts say.

But the secretary general of Musharraf's ruling Pakistan Muslim League party, Mushahid Hussain, insisted that Musharraf would leave the army after the election.

"He will take off his uniform after his election and before swearing in as president for another term," Hussain told reporters as he filed Musharraf's nomination.

The court has been increasingly hostile to Musharraf since he tried to sack its chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, in March in the apparent belief that it would make it easier to overcome challenges to his rule.

But Musharraf has also shown his muscle, expelling former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the man he toppled eight years ago, within hours of Sharif's return from exile earlier this month.

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