Bhutto Dubai-bound as Musharraf awaits court ruling

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KARACHI, Oct 31 (Reuters) Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto will fly to Dubai today to see her family, having left them behind when she returned home two weeks ago after eight years of self-imposed exile.

She leaves the country at a crucial time, with the Supreme Court expected to rule within a few days on whether President Pervez Musharraf's re-election should stand.

Fahmida Mirza, a close Bhutto aide and member of parliament for her Pakistan People's Party (PPP), told Reuters Bhutto would return before a planned public meeting in Rawalpindi on November. 9.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is going through a period of intense political uncertainty and deteriorating security due to a suicide and roadside bomb campaign waged by al Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants in the northwest.

Yesterday, a suicide bomb attack on the road leading to General Musharraf's army residence in Rawalpindi killed seven people, including the bomber.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule by Friday at the earliest whether Musharraf was eligible to stand for re-election by parliament on October. 6 while still army chief.

Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, was first formally elected president in an electoral college vote on Jan.

1, 2004.

Parliament is set to finish its term in mid-November, and national elections meant to return Pakistan to civilian-led democracy are due in January.

Musharraf has promised to quit the army if he remains president, and there has been talk that he could share power with Bhutto after the general election, forming a partnership the United States is believed to be quietly encouraging.

But with the uncertainty hanging over his position, the weakness of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, and the militant threat, there is speculation that Musharraf could impose emergency rule or martial law, or delay elections.

ENEMIES WITHIN Bhutto has voiced fears that members of the establishment would try to block or rig the elections.

Her crowd-pulling ability has already been constrained by the threat of assassination, due to her stand against Islamist militancy and extremism.

A suicide attack spoiled Bhutto's tumultuous welcome home parade in Karachi on Oct 18. The assassination attempt by at least one bomber, possibly two, killed 139 people among the hundreds of thousands who had come to watch her pass by.

Bhutto is going back to Dubai to see her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and children. Mirza said the former prime minister was in discussion with PPP leaders on whether she should land in Karachi on her return from the Gulf or go straight to Rawalpindi.

Musharraf granted an amnesty that allowed Bhutto to return to Pakistan without fear of prosecution in graft cases hanging over her from the 1990s.

Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew, is still languishing in exile in Saudi Arabia after trying to come back in September, but the government is believed to be under diplomatic pressure from Riyadh to let him return too.

The Supreme Court has already asserted that Sharif should be allowed to come back, and is delving into why his return was aborted last month.

The court is also mulling whether Musharraf had the right to grant the amnesty for Bhutto and other politicians.


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