Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on President Pervez Musharraf to step down following his imposition of emergency rule.

Asked what Mr Musharraf should do now, Mr Sharif said: 'Step down, because he is part of the problem. The more he prolongs his misrule, Pakistan will be moving towards anarchy.'

Mr Sharif, speaking by telephone from Saudi Arabia, said he had every intention of going back to Pakistan.

Pakistan's government said today that the schedule for parliamentary elections due in January may be adjusted after the state of emergency was imposed by President Musharraf.

Before the clampdown Mr Musharraf had said the federal and provincial assemblies would complete their five-year term expiring on 15 November and the nation would go to the polls under a caretaker set-up.

The government has said the elections would be held within 60 days after that, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said in October that the elections would be held in mid-January.

Mr Aziz said today that elections could be delayed by up to a year.

In his address to the nation after he imposed a state of emergency and suspended the country's constitution, Mr Musharraf promised that the process for transition to full democracy would continue.

Mr Musharraf, who assumed sweeping powers under the emergency rule, gave no date for the election.

Opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto accused Mr Musharraf of trying to delay the elections and called on the international community to pressure him not to put off the polls.

Mr Aziz has said that up to 500 people have been arrested across Pakistan in a crackdown launched after the declaration of a state of emergency.

Khan escapes house arrest

Pakistani police have arrested the acting leader of former premier Nawaz Sharif's party, after rounding up cricket legend Imran Khan and senior lawyers under the state of emergency.

Their arrests came as Mr Musharraf suspended the constitution citing what he said were threats posed to the nation by Islamic extremism and judicial interference.

Javed Hashmi, the acting chief of Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party, was arrested in a raid on his house in the central city of Multan.

Mr Hashmi was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2004 on treason charges for criticising the army, and freed on the orders of the Supreme Court in July.

Late yesterday, Mr Khan, who captained Pakistan to cricket World Cup success in 1992 and then turned to politics, said he was placed under house arrest.

But Mr Khan has escaped from his home in Lahore today.

Mr Khan, who heads his Movement for Justice Party, is at the forefront of an opposition campaign to dislodge Mr Musharraf.

Khawaja Asif, a firebrand central leader of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, was also placed under house arrest.

Nationalist opposition leaders Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Qadir  Magsi were detained in their home towns in southern Pakistan.

The president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz  Ahsan, and other legal leaders including Munir A  Malik, Ali Ahmad  Kurd and Tariq Mehmood were also taken into custody immediately after emergency rule was imposed.