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Pakistan Postpones Election Until Mid-February

“In all the four provinces, for some days this election process came to a complete halt,” Chief Election Commissioner Qazi Mohammad Farooq told a news conference, according to Reuters. “Polling will now be held on Feb. 18 instead of Jan. 8.”

The killing of former Prime Minister Bhutto during a campaign rally on Dec. 27 prompted three days of rioting in cities around the country, killing at least 58 people, according to the Interior Ministry, and causing millions of dollars in damages. Ten election offices were burned.

Farooq said election offices in 11 districts of Sindh, Bhutto’s home province, were burned down in the disturbances, destroying ballot boxes, voters lists and other election materials.

Opposition parties were quick to voice their objections to the vote delay.

“Whatever reasons they give are such lame-duck excuses, because the electoral papers and lists were burnt in the districts but they have those lists in the central office,” said Farzana Raja, a spokeswoman for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). “We reject their baseless excuses. We’re ready to fight the election.”

The opposition was expected to accuse authorities of postponing the vote to help the ruling party, which is allied to President Pervez Musharraf. Many believe Bhutto’s party could get a sympathy boost if the vote takes place on time.

In addition to logistical problems arising from the destruction caused by the rioting, a top election official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the caretaker governments of all four provinces of Pakistan had suggested the vote not be held during the holy month of Muharram from Jan. 10 through Feb. 8, because they could not guarantee security. Sectarian violence often breaks out between Pakistan’s Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Meanwhile, one of Bhutto’s top aides said on the day Bhutto was killed, the opposition leader was planning to give two U.S. lawmakers a 160-page dossier accusing the government of rigging the elections.

Bhutto was scheduled to meet later in the day of the rally with U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

Sen. Latif Khosa, a lawmaker from Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party, said he did not know if Bhutto’s killing was linked to her plans to release the document. Officials at the Information Ministry and the Interior Ministry declined comment, the AP reported. The government has denied charges of vote rigging and said it had nothing to do with Bhutto’s death.

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