ISLAMABAD, Pakistan &

Pervez Musharraf embarked on a new five-year term as a civilian president today, promising to lift a state of emergency by Dec. 16 and restore the constitution before January elections, a key demand of his domestic opponents and foreign backers.




In a televised speech hours after taking the oath of office, Musharraf also urged former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif &

his two rivals for power who recently returned from exile &

not to boycott the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.




He said "a level playing field" has been given to their parties, and they and others should "participate fully."




"I am determined to lift the emergency by Dec. 16," Musharraf said in his address to the nation. "The elections, God willing, will be held free and transparent under the constitution."




The inauguration ceremony came a day after he ended a four-decade military career as part of his long-delayed pledge not to serve as both president and army chief.




Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar administered the oath to a solemn-looking Musharraf, dressed in long black tunic adorned only with a pin of Pakistan's green and white flag.




"This is a milestone in the transition of Pakistan to the complete essence of democracy," Musharraf told an audience of government officials, foreign diplomats and military generals at the state palace in Islamabad.




Neither Bhutto nor Sharif was present at the ceremony, and it remained unclear whether the changeover would defuse the threat of an election boycott. Such a move would undercut Musharraf's effort to legitimize his rule through a democratic ballot.




A day after blinking back tears as he ended his military career, Musharraf appeared to be back to his usual bullish self.




"Anyone who is talking of any boycotts should hear this out: Come hell or high water, elections will be held on Jan. 8. Nobody derails it."