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Pak poll put off to Feb
Formal announcement expected today

Islamabad, December 31
Pakistan's Election Commission today decided in principle to delay the general election set for January 8 till February in view of poll preparations being adversely affected by the violent protests after the assassination of former Premier Benazir Bhutto.

The poll panel made the decision during an informal meeting this evening after receiving reports from poll officials and caretaker governments in the four provinces Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and North West Frontier Province about the impact of the protests on election arrangements and the law and order situation.

The Election Commission decided that the polls should be put off till the third week of February so that ballot boxes and electoral rolls destroyed in the protests can be replaced and the printing of ballot papers can be completed, Dawn News channel quoted sources in the panel as saying.

The Election Commission is expected to make a formal announcement about the postponement of the polls till February when it meets again tomorrow morning.

Elections to the national and four provincial assemblies were scheduled to be held on January 8, but preparations have been hit by violent protests across the country, particularly in the southern Sindh province.

The report received by the Election Commission from authorities in Sindh said preparations had been adversely affected and polls could not be held as scheduled on January 8, sources said.

Besides, the printing of ballot papers in a high-security press in Karachi, the capital of Sindh, had been disrupted by the protests and is not likely to be completed before January 15, they said. All nomination papers had also been burnt in four districts of Sindh.

In a related development, the government of the NWFP today decided to recommend to the Election Commission that polls in several areas should be postponed. It said polls should be put off in the Kurram tribal agency and Swat and Shangla districts due to the "poor law and order situation" in these areas.

It also said elections should be postponed in Abbottabad and Kohistan due to snowfall and inclement weather.

Kurram Agency has been rocked by sectarian clashes between Shias and Sunnis since mid-November and a recent spurt in fighting claimed nearly 80 lives. The army is conducting a major operation against pro-Taliban militants in Swat and Shangla. The decision to put off the polls till late February was apparently influenced by the fact that the government would need to deploy security forces during Moharram. PTI

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