Bhutto denies husband release deal

Former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto has denied that she struck a deal with the country's president to secure her husband's freedom.

    Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, faces corruption charges

    But exiled Bhutto said leaders from her opposition party had held "political reconciliation" talks with government officials.


    Asif Ali Zardari, 52, accused in many corruption cases during Bhutto's two governments in the early 1990s, was released on Monday on a one million rupee ($16,900) bail after eight years in jail.


    The government said Zardari's release was a step towards political harmony, and speculation has grown about a rapprochement between Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf.

    The president previously ruled out the possibility of her taking a role in national politics.

    Political reconciliation

    "No government official met with me, but there have been meetings with Asif Zardari and my party leaders for political reconciliation," Bhutto said on Tuesday.

    But she insisted there was no deal for Zardari's release.


    "I think all exiled leaders must have the right to go back to their country"

    Benazir Bhutto,
    former Pakistan prime minister

    In 1996, then president Faruq Leghari dismissed Bhutto's government on charges of corruption and misrule, and had Zardari arrested.


    Bhutto's successor, Nawaz Sharif, filed corruption charges against her, and she fled Pakistan in April 1999 to avoid arrest.


    Musharraf ousted Sharif's government in a bloodless coup in October 1999.

    Right to return

    In 2002, he held parliamentary elections, but refused to allow Sharif, by then exiled in Saudi Arabia, or Bhutto to return to contest the vote.


    On Tuesday, Bhutto, who has lived in exile in London and Dubai since fleeing the country, told Pakistan's Geo television she was eager to be reunited with her husband.


    "I want to go back. My children want to see their father," she said.

    "I think all exiled leaders must have the right to go back to their country, and I say it will be good for Pakistan."


    Bhutto did not say if she was making plans to return, and it was unclear if Zardari - staying at their home in the industrial hub of Karachi - planned to join Bhutto and their children in Dubai.

    Politically motivated

    In September, a court overturned Zardari's conviction for receiving kickbacks from the state-run Pakistan Steel Mills in 1995 for which he was sentenced to seven years.


    Bhutto's government was
    dismissed in 1996 for misrule

    However, he remained in custody awaiting trial on at least nine other corruption and criminal cases.

    Bhutto's party contends that the cases are politically motivated.


    Musharraf has marginalised the main opposition groups - Bhutto's Pakistan's People's Party and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League - which accuse him of running a military dictatorship and of persecuting their leaders.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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