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EU urges Pakistan to lift all curbs ahead of vote

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif waves to his supporters during an election rally in Patoki near Lahore December 16, 2007. REUTERS/Zulfikar Balti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission welcomed on Monday the lifting of emergency rule in Pakistan but called for all restrictions to be removed ahead of elections.

The move by President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday meant it would be possible to send a limited European Union mission of about 50 people to observe the January 8 general election, a spokesman for the EU executive said.

“We welcome President Musharraf’s lifting of state of emergency and the revoking of the provisional constitutional order,” Amadeu Altafaj Tardio told a regular briefing.

“It is essential for all restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms to be lifted in advance of the parliamentary elections,” he said. “We thus appeal to the government to take further steps to enhance confidence in the political process.”

Altafaj underlined it needed to allow a level playing field for all political parties and to ensure complete transparency in the election process.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner now believed it would be possible to send an election mission to Pakistan, but some points needed to be clarified, he said.

Pakistan still needed to agree on the rights and obligations of the mission and how to ensure its safety, he added.

Musharraf, a key ally of the West in the battle against Islamist militancy, restored the constitution after more than a month of emergency rule in which he sacked senior judges, locked up lawyers and rounded up thousands of activists.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the move on Sunday but said a free election was needed to move the country towards democracy.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, editing by Paul Taylor