Pakistani army vows to protect voters in landmark election

ISLAMABAD Thu May 9, 2013 11:29am IST

A man walks past rows of election ballot boxes, before they are transported to polling offices, in the premises of the district city court in Karachi May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

A man walks past rows of election ballot boxes, before they are transported to polling offices, in the premises of the district city court in Karachi May 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Akhtar Soomro

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's military said on Thursday it will send tens of thousands of troops to polling stations and counting centres to prevent the Taliban from disrupting Saturday's election after the insurgent group's attacks in the campaign killed over 100 people.

The election, already Pakistan's most violent, marks the first time that a civilian government will complete a full term and hand over to another administration.

The Taliban says it regards the elections as un-Islamic and its attacks have prevented candidates from the three main parties from holding large rallies. Instead they have relied on door-to-door campaigning or small meetings in private homes or on street corners.

Army spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said 300,000 security officials, including 32,000 troops, have been deployed in Punjab, the most populous province.

"Definitely they (intelligence agencies) have reports and obviously they have made a plan to counter that," he said, referring to security threats from the Taliban.

Another 96,000 security forces would be deployed in the northwest of Pakistan, where the Taliban operate from strongholds.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is calling on Pakistan to reconsider its support for the U.S. war on Islamist militancy and wants to introduce free-market economics, is seen as the frontrunner in the election race.

His Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) has capitalised on widespread frustrations with the outgoing government led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 66-year history, either through coups or from behind the scenes.

(Created by Michael Georgy; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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