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By Salahuddin Haider & Agencies
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2002-04-10 03:00

KARACHI, 10 April — An opinion poll, conducted by a group of newspapers, forecast victory for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the referendum slated for April 30.

Urdu-language daily Jang said 67 percent of 21,000 people questioned during the survey backed Gen. Musharraf while 31 percent spoke against the referendum. The remaining 2 percent made no comments.

Almost similar results were obtained following a poll conducted by another newspaper, Khabrain, which relied on the opinion of some 25,000 of its readers.

Meanwhile in Lahore, some 100,000 people beat drums and shouted slogans yesterday in an elaborately staged rally kicking off President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s election campaign.

Gen. Musharraf chose the park where Pakistan’s independence movement was launched in 1940 to begin his campaign for a referendum that would extend his term by five years after the restoration of civilian rule in October.

Musharraf dissolved Parliament when he seized power. The October parliamentary elections will select a new two-house legislature. The constitution provides for presidents to be elected by Parliament.

Most opposition parties are boycotting the vote. Many in the crowd, some of whom were bused in by the local government from surrounding areas, said they had no objection to the referendum.

“Thousands of people have come because they love him,” said Khasata Noor, 85, who took an eight-hour bus ride from the border city of Peshawar to attend the rally.

Many government institutions and universities told employees to show up at the rally rather than at their jobs yesterday, people attending the event said.

Local newspapers also reported traffic police had impounded thousands of vans and buses over the last two days to carry people to Minar-e-Pakistan park, though at least some buses still appeared to be operating normally on the streets of this eastern city.

Lahore Mayor Mian Amir Mehmood conceded the government was providing transportation to people who wanted to attend, but said no one was being forced to go to the rally.

“This referendum will show the public support to the president in front of all the world,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people – most of them men – filled the park decorated with banners, flags and pictures of Musharraf, as music was broadcast over loudspeakers. A separate section at the front of the crowd was reserved for several thousand women.

Musharraf traveled to Lahore in the morning yesterday to address the rally. He visited the tomb of poet Allama Iqbal who was influential in Pakistan’s independence movement.

Some political parties have backed Gen. Musharraf’s referendum. Tehrik-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan said in Karachi yesterday that the agenda of Gen. Musharraf was similar to that of his party’s and would therefore support the president.

The Pakistan Millat Party of former President Farooq Leghari, the Awami Tehrik of Maulana Tahirul Qadri, the Pakistan Muslim League (QA), and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (Niazi group) have also announced support for the referendum.

Meanwhile, the government has finalized the question to be put at the referendum scheduled for April 30.

According to official sources, the question being prepared by the think tank of the military government, led by Gen. Tanvir Naqvi and legal advisers led by Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, has been finalized and will be made public in a day or two.

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