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ISLAMABAD, April 12: The federal cabinet on Wednesday decided that general elections would be held after the completion of the assemblies’ constitutional term by the end of 2007 or beginning of 2008.

The cabinet, in its meeting presided over by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, decided that the issue of formation of an interim government would be settled in accordance with the Constitution.

It decided that national census would be conducted in 2008. The last census was held in 1998.

The cabinet also approved purchase of F-16 aircraft from the United States and procurement of high-tech F-10 planes from China.

The F-16 will include the new C and D versions in addition to old A and B versions.

Briefing journalists after the cabinet meeting, Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said: “The cabinet approved the summary but the number of planes and cost of the deals was not disclosed”.

The health ministry presented a report on bird flue and informed the cabinet that there was no evidence of the epidemic in the country and poultry was safe for human consumption.

The cabinet reiterated that media in the country was free and democracy was satisfactorily working according to the conditions of the country.

Responding to a question about US official Richard Boucher’s statements relating to democracy, the information minister said: “His statements published in the press clearly said that the question of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto returning home was an internal matter of Pakistan.”

When asked about the president’s role as the chief of the army staff, he said the issue would be resolved strictly in accordance with the Constitution and law in 2007.

The interior minister discussed the law and order situation in Balochistan and the tribal areas and the steps being taken by the government.

The cabinet also approved privatisation and handing over of the Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation to Etisalat.