Pakistan will hold peaceful vote, Musharraf assures EU

( dpa )- Pakistan will hold elections on February 18 as planned, and those elections will be not only free and fair, but peaceful, President Pervez Musharraf assured members of the European Parliament on Monday.

"The elections will be held on February 18. Let me assure you that they will be free, fair, transparent and - I have added a new word - peaceful," Musharraf told members of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee.

At the end of a day on which he also held meetings with the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Musharraf gave MEPs a strongly- worded defence of his democratic credentials.

Those credentials had been called into question following the 2007 sacking of Pakistan's chief justice, the declaration of emergency rule, the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the postponement of elections initially planned for January 8.

"What do you do if a chief justice is politicized, inept, corrupt and nepotistic?" Musharraf asked, before insisting that the removal had been carried out constitutionally.

"The democratic transition which had been de-railed was put back on the rails" by his executive decisions, he said.

Several MEPs referred to allegations that Bhutto's murder on December 27 was linked to or condoned by the security services.

"I reject all theories of conspiracy involving the government. I consider all such conspiracy theories as trash," Musharraf replied. Bhutto was killed when she stepped out of her armoured car contrary to the rules of security, he added.

Musharraf also rejected accusations that some political opponents were still under arrest in Pakistan.

"There are no political prisoners in Pakistan today," he said. Rather, those who were arrested during last year's riots were responsible for widespread looting and vandalism.

"The demand of the people of Pakistan was: where were the police? And here we're talking about why we arrested anyone?" he asked rhetorically.

And he rejected accusations that his use of emergency rule had also impacted on the freedom of the Pakistani media.

"You don't know our media... You're getting information from people who could be misleading you," he said.

Earlier on Monday, Solana urged Musharraf to hold "free, fair and peaceful elections" and to restore the rule of law in his country.

Speaking after what he described as a "good and frank" exchange of views, Solana said any new Pakistani government should take "the will of the people" into account and should continue on the path of both economic and institutional reform.

"The rule of law has been lacking for years, and we hope very much that the result of the election will allow ( Pakistan) to move into that direction," Solana said.

The EU plans to send a team of observers to Pakistan to ensure that the February 18 vote takes place according to democratic rules.

"It is very important, and we made this clear to the president, that the elections are free, fair and peaceful," Solana said.

Solana also said efforts to advance EU-Pakistan relations would have to wait until the results of the vote.

Musharraf , who is touring EU capitals in a bid to improve his international profile, said his country understood the significance of the role played by the EU in resolving political disputes around the world.

The president also sought to reassure the EU that Pakistan's fight against terrorism and extremism would "continue with all our resolve and determination."

And he pledged to continue his country's cooperation with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Solana noted that the fight against terrorism was "fundamental, not only for the stability of Pakistan but for the (entire) region."

While in Brussels, Musharraf also planned to meet Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt .

His European tour will also see him meet French President Nicolas Sarzoky and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and attend the annual World Economic Forum in Davos , Switzerland.

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