The leaders of Pakistan's main opposition parties put up a united front Wednesday for next week's general elections after polls showed them pulling ahead of President Pervez Musharraf's allies.
Party officials said Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, agreed at a meeting late Tuesday with Nawaz Sharif, another ex-prime minister, to work together after Monday's polls.
Two polls released in recent days tip Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) as the most popular in the country since her assassination in December, followed by Sharif's, with allies of Musharraf in third place.
"Both agreed to work together after the elections, regardless of which party wins a majority," a senior PPP official, who accompanied Zardari to Sharif's house for talks, told AFP.
At a joint press conference late Tuesday, Zardari told reporters that he would "take along all democratic forces" if his party wins the polls.
PPP spokeswoman Farzana Raja said Wednesday the two leaders had agreed to cooperate but that any decision on a post-election alliance "will be taken by the party's central executive committee."
A spokesman for Sharif's party said there were "several issues on which both sides have agreement and there are a number of issues on which both sides can work together in a post-election scenario."
Sharif was set to address a major rally in central Punjab province later Wednesday, defying security concerns following Bhutto's murder at a political meeting seven weeks ago and a subsequent wave of suicide attacks.
The European Union on Wednesday expressed concerns about the elections, urging authorities to improve arrangements and free political detainees.
"The EU urges the authorities to take all possible steps in the remaining days to improve the conditions in which the elections are being held, including preventing local government officials from misusing state assets," it said.
Pakistani authorities should issue and enforce instructions for detailed results to be displayed at all polling stations immediately after voting is completed, the statement said.
It also urged the authorities to deal with complaints and appeals in a "timely, effective and transparent manner" and to provide an independent means of redress.
The EU also renewed a call for the immediate release of political detainees including judges and lawyers "as an essential step in restoring confidence in the independence of the judiciary, rule of law and democratic process."
Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, sacked the country's chief justice and several other senior judges under a state of emergency in November. Most remain under house arrest or in detention.
The call came as the EU observer mission in the troubled nation reached its full strength ahead of Monday's elections.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday warned that Pakistan's Election Commission had failed to investigate reports of campaign violations, threatening the validity of the crucial national polls.
The New York-based group said in a statement that the commission had ignored reports of arrests and harassment of opposition party members, and failed to act independently from the administration of Musharraf. (AFP)
Bhutto widower, Sharif mull Pakistan coalition