ISLAMABAD, Nov 4: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Sunday defended President Pervez Musharraf’s move to impose a state of emergency and said general elections could be put off for up to a year.

Addressing a news conference, Mr Aziz acknowledged that 400 to 500 people had been rounded up.

He was non-committal about how long the emergency would continue and just said that it would last for “as long as it was an utmost necessity”.

However, Mr Aziz said a decision about rescheduling the elections would be taken after consultation with all stakeholders.

Parliament was empowered, he said, to delay elections for a year under a state of emergency.

The news conference in the Prime Minister’s House was held under the glaring lights of a host of television cameras, though the prime minister and his aides sitting with him were aware that barring the state-run Pakistan Television, none of the local or international news channels could be viewed in the country because of the government ban on private TV channels.

Answering a question, Mr Aziz said the federal and provincial governments were working under the Provisional Constitutional Order, although the set-up remained parliamentary.

Regarding rejection of the imposition of emergency by a bench of the Supreme Court, he claimed: “This ruling holds no significance as it came after the declaration of emergency and the judges on the bench had been removed from their office.”

When asked if Gen Pervez Musharraf would doff his military uniform after taking oath as president for the next term, Mr Aziz said the matter was in the court.

He insisted that no decision had been taken about the election date. The government remained committed to the democratic process, he said. Endorsing the views expressed by Gen Musharraf in his address to the nation, the prime minister said Pakistan was in a crisis caused by militant violence and a judiciary which had paralysed the government.

He said the decision to proclaim emergency had been taken to “ensure the writ of the government, improve the law and order situation and maintain harmony among the judiciary, executive and legislature, so that the government could function smoothly”.

He said the government wanted to be able to act effectively and protect the lives of people, which could not be done with ordinary laws. He said the security situation in the country and Afghanistan and the presence of foreign troops there had prompted the government to take extraordinary measures.

Although the Constitution had been held in abeyance, all the activities would continue normally, he said.

“The judiciary will function in the normal way. Army will not be called in any part of the country and only police and paramilitary forces will be used,” he said.

Responding to a volley of questions about curbs on media, he said the government wanted an agreement on a code of conduct for setting parameters for the electronic media before allowing the blocked private television channels to resume their telecasts.

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