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PAKISTANI VICTORS VOW NEW COURSE

Talks with militants and new freedoms are immediate plans.

The winners of Pakistan's parliamentary elections said Tuesday that they would take a new approach to fighting Islamic militants by pursuing more dialogue than military confrontation, and that they would undo the crackdown on the media and restore independence to the judiciary.

With nearly complete returns from Monday's vote giving it the most seats, the party of the assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, led by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, made clear that a new political order prevailed.

Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party, said the new Parliament would reverse many of the unpopular policies that fueled the strong protest vote against President Pervez Musharraf and his party.

Bush administration officials said the United States would still like to see Pakistan's opposition leaders find a way to work with Musharraf, a staunch ally for more than six years, but conceded that the notion appeared increasingly unlikely.

Although Zardari said he wanted a government of national consensus, he ruled out working with anyone from the previous government under Musharraf. Instead, he said he was talking to the leader of the other main opposition party, Nawaz Sharif, whose party polled second, about forming a coalition.

Although the victory of the two parties was broadly welcomed in Pakistan, there were memories of the failings of civilian governments in the 1990s. U.S. officials were particularly skeptical of Zardari, who has faced corruption charges in Pakistan and abroad.

Sharif was twice prime minister in the 1990s and faced numerous corruption charges himself after being ousted by Musharraf in a coup.

Sharif quickly announced several conditions for joining a coalition. They included the impeachment of Musharraf and the restoration of the chief justice and other Supreme Court judges suspended by the president in November.

Zardari was less categorical, not calling for Musharraf's impeachment, for instance. The struggle to end military rule and bring a return to democracy is a long, uphill battle, he said. "We might have to take soft, small steps," he said at a news briefing at his home in the capital after a meeting of 50 senior members of the party.

Still, the first order of business will be to undo restrictions on the media and restore the independence of the judiciary, he said.

Although he has little experience in such matters, Zardari criticized the antiterrorism policies of Musharraf, saying his policies had led to an increase in militancy.

The two opposition parties share similar views of how to tackle the terrorism problem. The new approach is more likely to be responsive to the consensus of the Pakistani public than was Musharraf's and to shun a heavy hand by the military and rely on dialogue with the militants.

Election returns, which were nearly complete, showed Zardari's party earning 87 of the 258 contested seats in the National Assembly, with Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, getting 66 seats.

The former ruling party that had supported Musharraf, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, won only 38 seats.

The remaining contested seats were divided among seven smaller parties and factions and independent candidates. Ten seats remain uncounted, according to the Election Commission.

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