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Former Pakistani Leader Bhutto Vows Return From Exile Soon

01 September 2007

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto says that despite stalled power-sharing talks, she will be heading back to her country soon. She made the announcement Saturday in London. For VOA, Tom Rivers has details.

Following a meeting in London of colleagues from her Pakistan People's Party, former Prime Minister Bhutto says she will be returning from exile soon to run in parliamentary elections in the coming months.

"The Pakistan People's Party has decided to form a committee, and we will be holding press conferences in every provincial capital of Pakistan on September 14, and we will be giving the date of my arrival, the venue of my arrival, and I will be going back to Pakistan very soon," she said.

Her planned return will come despite a failure to strike a power-sharing deal with a group representing Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf.

Ms. Bhutto says envoys from both sides could not reach an agreement and that representatives from the president's delegation have returned to Pakistan for consultations.

"We have been engaged in contacts with the present regime for the restoration of democracy so that there can be a viable political system," she added. "We understand that there is severe reaction within the present ruling party to any understanding with the Pakistan People's Party, and due to that reaction, no understanding has been arrived at, and we are making our own plans to return to the country."

Ms. Bhutto blames hardliners in Mr. Musharraf's ruling party for trying to scuttle the talks, but she says it is still possible to find common ground. She has said the president must agree to step down as military chief.

President Musharraf is seeking re-election from the current parliament. He hopes to secure a five-year term, but Pakistan's Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the legality of his re-election by the country's existing legislature.

Parliamentary elections are due in early January. Ms. Bhutto says the country needs a new course and she says she can deliver change.

"I feel that Pakistan can turn the corner if it returns to its roots of moderation, of democracy and of insuring governmental authority through the length and breadth of the country," she said.

In addition to Ms. Bhutto, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, overthrown by Mr. Musharraf in 1999, also plans to return. He says he will return home September 10 to challenge President Musharraf's re-election bid.

Mr. Sharif was exiled in 2000 and could face arrest when he returns.

Ms. Bhutto meanwhile has been charged with corruption, and there is a possibility she could be detained upon arrival.

Public support for President Musharraf has plummeted as insurgent violence has mounted in the tribal areas near Afghanistan and after the government battled Islamic extremists at a mosque in Islamabad.

The embattled president has been seeking Ms. Bhutto's support.

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