ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – President Pervez Musharraf warned troops would shoot anyone trying to disrupt parliamentary elections meant to bring stability to the country as it battles a rise in attacks blamed on Muslim extremists.
An anti-terrorism court, meanwhile, sentenced three militants to life imprisonment Tuesday for plotting to kill Musharraf in a failed car bombing in 2002.
The Feb. 18 elections were already delayed by six weeks because of the aftermath of the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 18. Musharraf said the vote would not be delayed again and expressed confidence it would be peaceful.
"I have said to the rangers and army shoot anyone who tries to do anything of this sort (disrupt the election)," he said in a speech at the opening of a new bridge Monday.
He did not elaborate, but some officials have said the recent surge in terror attacks are meant to derail the elections. On Monday, nine people were killed and 52 wounded in a blast outside a textile factory in Karachi.
The three militants were convicted of trying to set off the car bomb as Musharraf's convoy passed by in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi. Judges said car did not explode because the remote control device used to detonate it malfunctioned, said state prosecutor Naimat Randhawa.
It was not clear whether the men planned to appeal. The men were from the outlawed Harkatul Mujahideen Al-Almi militant group, which was blamed for a 2002 bombing at the U.S. consulate in Karachi that killed 14 people, police at the time said.
Musharraf has survived at least three attempts on his life, the botched 2002 attack being the first.
On Monday, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lashed out at Musharraf in a campaign speech, saying he was blindly following America and ordering anti-terror operations that have left the country "drowned in blood." It was one of his harshest attacks on Musharraf over his alliance with Washington, and may strike a chord with Pakistanis disenchanted with the war on terrorism.
Both Bhutto's party and Sharif's group are expected to do well in the parliamentary elections.