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Pakistan government delays elections

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW Pakistan's parliamentary elections have been delayed until February 18
  • Elections were scheduled for January 8 but riots after Bhutto's death forced delay
  • Bhutto reportedly had document accusing government of a vote-rigging plan
  • Hours before assassination, Bhutto was to give report to two U.S. lawmakers
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's parliamentary elections have been postponed until Februrary 18 because of the unrest following the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The elections were originally scheduled for January 8, but that would have been "impossible" because of the time needed to re-do burned ballot papers and repair ransacked election offices, Chief Election Commissioner Justice Qazi Muhammad Farooq said on Wednesday.

The ensuing violence caused more than $200 million in damages and claimed at least 58 lives, said Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema.

Provincial officials also wanted the elections delayed until after the Muslim holy month of Muharram, which will begin around January 9 and end about February 6.

Kanwar Dilshad, the commission's secretary general, had earlier said a decision would be made after consulting with all the political parties.

However, spokesmen for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party said neither had been formally consulted by early afternoon Wednesday in Pakistan.

Both opposition parties wanted the elections to go ahead as scheduled next week, hoping to capitalize on the sympathy following Bhutto's killing.

Sharif told reporters that he believed Musharraf -- who was scheduled to address the Pakistani nation on Wednesday evening -- intended to delay the vote because his party would not garner enough seats in parliament to rule.

The United States welcomed Pakistan's decision to announce a specific election date, fearing that the government might indefinitely delay the vote.

"It's important that there is a firm date for elections," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said shortly after Wednesday's announcement. "We hope that all the political parties will work together to ensure a free and fair election."

Meanwhile, sources close to the slain former Pakistani prime minister earlier told CNN that Bhutto had planned to hand over to visiting U.S. lawmakers on the day she died a report accusing Pakistan's intelligence services of a plot to rig parliamentary elections.

Bhutto was assassinated Thursday, hours before a scheduled meeting with U.S. politicans Patrick Kennedy and Arlen Specter.

A top Bhutto aide who helped write the report showed a copy to CNN.

"Where an opposing candidate is strong in an area, they [supporters of President Pervez Musharraf ] have planned to create a conflict at the polling station, even killing people if necessary, to stop polls at least three to four hours," the document says.

The report also accused the government of planning to tamper with ballots and voter lists, intimidate opposition candidates and misuse U.S.-made equipment to monitor communications of opponents.

"Ninety percent of the equipment that the USA gave the government of Pakistan to fight terrorism is being used to monitor and to keep a check on their political opponents," the report says. Video Watch the controversy surrounding Pakistan elections »

The Pakistani government denied the allegations, with two Pakistani diplomatic sources calling the report "baseless." Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Musharraf, called the accusations "ridiculous" and said the election will be "free, fair and transparent."

"I think they are just a pack of lies," he said.

One Bhutto source said the document was compiled at her request and said the information came from sources inside the police and intelligence services.

Senator Latif Khosa, who helped put Bhutto's report together, accused the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence of operating a rigging cell from a safe house in the capital, Islamabad. The goal, he said, was to change voting results electronically on election day.

"The ISI has set up a mega-computer system where they can hack any computer in Pakistan and connect with the Election Commission," he said.

Media outlets in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have run reports alleging that retired Brig. Gen. Ejaz Shah -- formerly an Inter-Services Intelligence officer and now head of the civilian Intelligence Bureau -- was involved in the vote-rigging plans.

Shah's name also turned up in a letter Bhutto wrote to Musharraf after the first attempt on her life on October 18, when she returned to Pakistan after eight years in exile, Pakistani media reported. In the letter, the media reported, Shah was one of four Pakistani officials that Bhutto named as people who wanted her dead.

The Pakistan government has denied those allegations as well.

Khosa said he could make no link between Bhutto's assassination and the report. Some terrorism experts also said there was no reason to believe Bhutto was killed because of the report, agreeing with Pakistani government contentions that al Qaeda was responsible for her death.

Meanwhile, the government said on Wednesday it has not ruled out international assistance in its investigation into Bhutto's death.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mohammadmian Soomro said the government would "take advantage" of France's offer of help if needed following a meeting with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq, in the department's first briefing since the Bhutto assassination, said that several foreign leaders had called to condemn the killing and some offered help in the investigation.

The Pakistani government was committed to a thorough and transparent investigation and was "open to receiving assistance from outside."

The comments Wednesday contradicted what Pakistani officials had said earlier.

On Saturday, Cheema categorically rejected any outside help, saying, "We understand our environment better than the international community."

The United States had offered to send forensic specialists from the F.B.I., and Britain said it could provide technicians from Scotland Yard to assist Pakistani investigators, APP said.

Asif Ali Zardari, who is effectively leading Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, has called for a United Nations inquiry into his late wife's assassination.

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But Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani, indicated in an interview with The New York Times that the government would not endorse a separate inquiry modeled after the U.N. investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Such an international investigation, Durrani told the newspaper, posed "a lot of complications." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Brian Todd and Zain Verjee contributed to this report.

All About Pakistani PoliticsBenazir Bhutto

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