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Pakistan opposition parties deadlocked over election demands

    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s opposition parties remained deadlocked Friday after three days of talks to draft conditions they want the government to meet for their participation in next month’s elections.
    Representatives of the parties of former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto said they would continue talks on two remaining sticking points, after announcing Thursday they had reached agreement on 15 issues in a charter of electoral demands.
    They would not specify what the demands for their participation in parliamentary elections set for Jan. 8 were until they are endorsed by their leaders.
    ‘‘We still have to settle a couple of issues, and I’m an optimist that this will be done soon,’’ said Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesman for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N.
    Media reports said differences remained on the two key issues: The restoration of an independent judiciary and a deadline to be set for government compliance.
    Both Bhutto and Sharif claim that President Pervez Musharraf’s government will try to rig the vote. But they have disagreed what conditions should be put in place to prevent cheating.
    Sharif has insisted that Supreme Court judges dismissed by Musharraf when he proclaimed a state of emergency a month ago be reinstated before the vote. Bhutto has indicated she would prefer to reinstate them after the elections.
    ‘‘We both are concerned that the elections seem to be unfair and we (would) like to set some benchmarks to demonstrate what is fairness,’’ Bhutto told reporters at the airport as she was leaving for a brief visit to Dubai.
    Bhutto is a two-time prime minister who recently returned to her homeland after nearly eight years in exile.
    Her spokesman Farhatullah Babar said she would return to Pakistan in several days. Bhutto’s family still lives abroad, including in Dubai, where they fled before Musharraf’s military coup in 1999 that ousted then-prime minister Sharif.
    Bhutto has said her Pakistan People’s Party intends to contest the parliamentary ballot, although most other opposition politicians want her to join them in boycotting the vote unless Musharraf’s government fulfills their charter demands.
    Meanwhile, a court in Bhutto’s hometown of Larkana accepted a petition challenging her candidacy in the election. The petitioner, a member of the pro-Musharraf ruling party, asked the court to disqualify her on the grounds that she was convicted of corruption charges in 2000.
    Government-run electoral commissions already have rejected the candidacies of Sharif and his brother, Shabhaz, for supposed involvement in criminal acts in the late 1990s. Both have the right to appeal the decision.
    Musharraf declared a state of emergency Nov. 3 and fired most of the Supreme Court justices — including the chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry — just before they were to rule on the validity of his October re-election by a parliament controlled by his supporters. He then stacked the Supreme Court with loyalists, who promptly dismissed all complaints against the former general’s election.
    Meanwhile, Wajihuddin Ahmad — a retired judge who lost the presidential vote to Musharraf — was detained after he addressed an anti-Musharraf rally in the eastern city of Gujrat, his lawyer, Haider Mahmood, said. Angered by the arrest, dozens of lawyers protested and clashed with police, Mahmood said.
    On Thursday, Sharif tried to lead hundreds of supporters, joined by some attorneys, in a march to the heavily guarded Islamabad home of Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice who has been under house arrest since the emergency declaration.
    Riot police blocked the route with concrete and steel barriers and barbed wire. Sharif led his followers to the blockade, then spoke briefly before they dispersed peacefully, defusing a potential showdown.
    Sharif, who also returned from exile last month, has vowed to continue pursuing the reinstatement of Chaudhry and other judges.
    An electoral boycott would also represent a major setback for the United States, which has promoted the former four-star general as a moderate leader able to stand up to Islamic extremism and aid its fight against terrorism.
    Musharraf has promised to lift the emergency on Dec. 16 and has relinquished his leadership of the powerful army, which were key demands of his opponents.
    ———
    Associated Press Writer Zia Khan in Lahore contributed to this report

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