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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 16:39 GMT
Musharraf warns opposition leaders
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto
Pakistan's political opposition claims they are being stifled
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By Zaffar Abbas
BBC correspondent in Pakistan

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has said that he will not allow the two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to take part in the general elections in October this year.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf
Musharaff: Bhutto and Sharif are not welcome

His comments, made to reporters in Tokyo during an official visit to Japan, came as opposition politicians in Pakistan met the visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

They have asked her to raise the issue of the denial of fundamental rights by the military-led government.

General Musharraf's views about Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are not new, as he has often made it known that they would not be allowed to take part in active politics in the country.

'Pre-poll rigging'

But the timing of his remarks against senior politicians, especially when Mrs Robinson is visiting Pakistan, has surprised many people in the country.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mary Robinson: Hearing opposition complaints

A three-member delegation of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples' Party, which met Mrs Robinson, later told reporters that they informed her of the number of opposition politicians who were being kept in detention on charges of alleged corruption.

They told her how the government has refused to allow political activities in the country.

Members of Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League said they also informed Mrs Robinson about the alleged methods being used by the government to systematically eliminate opposition politicians from mainstream politics.

They have accused the government of introducing amendments to the constitution and framing new laws which one senior opposition politician described as pre-poll rigging.

'Objective' view

Mrs Robinson later told reporters that she took up the matter with the interior minister, Moinuddin Haider.

She said the minister told her that the only restriction on the political parties was that they were not allowed to hold public meetings and rallies, which according to him was because of the law and order situation.

During her stay here Mrs Robinson is also expected to meet members of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to obtain an objective view of the prevailing situation.

But it seems the government is determined to go ahead with its plans.

And though restrictions on political activities may be lifted closer to the time of the elections, there is a strong possibility that senior opposition politicians like Ms Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and others may be barred from taking part.

See also:

11 Mar 02 | South Asia
UN chief concerned on Pakistan rights
09 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pakistan meeting 'bridges differences'
09 Mar 02 | South Asia
India rebuffs Pakistan talks offer
08 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pakistan amnesty for Islamic radicals
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Indian minister goes to Pakistan
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