Pakistan's Bhutto to return home as planned

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ISLAMABAD, Oct 11 (Reuters) Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto will return as planned on October 18, a spokesman said, despite a call from President Pervez Musharraf for her to wait until a court rules on the legality of his re-election.

Bhutto is scheduled to fly home from eight years in self-exile a day after the Supreme Court reconvenes to consider challenges to Musharraf's eligibility in a presidential election last Saturday in which he swept most votes.

It is not clear how long the court will take to reach a decision on opposition objections to Musharraf's re-election while still army chief.

''Ms Bhutto will return to Pakistan as scheduled on the 18th of October,'' said her spokesman, Farahtullah Babar.

He declined to comment on why Musharraf might have asked Bhutto to stay away until the Supreme Court had ruled.

Important US ally Musharraf and Bhutto have been in talks for months on a power-sharing pact.

In a major step towards a deal, Musharraf last week promulgated an ordinance dropping corruption charges against Bhutto and other public office holders from 1985 to 1999.

In return, members of parliament from Bhutto's party, unlike other opposition parliamentarians, did not resign but only abstained when legislators voted for Musharraf, giving the process vital legitimacy.

The amnesty would appear to clear the way for a trouble-free return for Bhutto, who intends to lead her party in a general election due in early January.

Musharraf, in an interview with private ARYONE television network broadcast on Wednesday, said Bhutto should come back after the Supreme Court had reached a decision on his re-election.

''I would say she should not come before. We must tide over these problems. She should come later,'' he said.

Asked whether she should return after the decision, he said: ''Yes, certainly''.

He did not elaborate on why he thought she should return after the court decision, or say what would happen if she returned as planned.

''There is no case (against her) as such,'' he said, when asked if she might be arrested. ''Whatever the law of the land dictates, we'll follow.'' Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999, has promised to quit the post of army chief before taking the oath of office for the second term. His current term expires on November 15.

Pakistan's main stock index had risen 2.6 percent since Musharraf's re-election on Saturday even with the uncertainty over the result. Investors are keen to see him continue the policies that have produced strong growth and rising shares.

Reuters AE GC1514

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