WASHINGTON (AFP) — The White House on Tuesday said Pakistan's release of more than 3,000 prisoners jailed under President Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule, if confirmed, would be good news.
"You are informing me of the release so, to the extent that I haven't been able to check that out, obviously that would be a positive development," spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.
But US President George W. Bush still wants Musharraf to end the crackdown, hold elections, and step down as army chief if he is to be president, said Perino.
"As the situation evolves we are getting closer, hopefully, to when the emergency order will be lifted, the elections will be held, and that President Musharraf will take off the uniform and be a civilian president rather than trying to be both," she said.
She spoke after Pakistan's government said Tuesday it had released more than 3,000 prisoners jailed under Musharraf's emergency rule, following US calls to reverse a crackdown on the opposition.
In a further move aimed at ending weeks of raging political turmoil and global pressure, Pakistan's election commission announced the nuclear-armed nation would vote in a general election on January 8.
Musharraf, who flew to Saudi Arabia earlier in the day, faces growing international calls to scrap the state of emergency, free political prisoners, lift curbs on the media and ensure a fair vote.
Interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema told AFP that 3,416 people arrested in the past two weeks had already been released and the remaining 2,000 would be freed "soon."
It was the first clear indication of the number of lawyers, political opponents and activists rounded up since military ruler Musharraf imposed the emergency on November 3.
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