Pakistan ex-PMs demand fair elections

Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister, has confirmed that she is to return to the country to contest forthcoming parliamentary elections.

    Benazir Bhutto has denied any agreement with Musharraf

    Bhutto made the announcement on Thursday, as she met Nawaz Sharif, also a former Pakistani prime minister, in London.


    "I have a commitment to the people of Pakistan and plan to go back and help them at the time of the next election," Bhutto told a news conference.


    She did not confirm when she will return to Pakistan.


    Bhutto and Sharif allied themselves against General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan president, in May and vowed to restore democracy in Pakistan. They are the principal leaders of the country's main secular opposition parties.


    "There's no agreement [with Musharraf]. Our people meet all the time in parliament"

    Benazir Bhutto,
    former Pakistan Prime Minister

    However, the Pakistani press has widely speculated that Bhutto had met the military leader to discuss the elections and gain assurances she would not face arrest over corruption charges.


    Bhutto denied any alliance or agreement with Musharraf.


    "There's no agreement. Our people meet all the time in parliament," she said.


    Sharif denied reports that he had also agreed to a deal with Musharraf pledging not to return to Pakistan until 2009.


    'No deal'


    Musharraf overthrew Sharif in a military coup in 1999. Bhutto, who was Pakistan's prime minister twice in the 1980s and 1990s, has been living in London and the United Arab Emirates since 1999, when she fled the country to avoid arrest on corruption charges.


    Sharif denied Musharraf's claim that he struck a deal to leave the country for 10 years.


    "Musharraf and his cronies have been saying that, but there are no witnesses," Sharif said.


    He also declined to confirm when he planned to return to Pakistan to contest the election.


    Nadir Chaudhri, Sharif's spokesman, said any discussions with Musharraf would have broken a deal between Bhutto and Sharif in which they promised not to negotiate with the military about coming to power.


    Election monitor


    Bhutto "categorically denies" holding secret talks with Musharraf, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Bhutto's spokesman, said.


    "All such media stories pertaining to the 'deal' have been dismissed as part of a sinister disinformation media campaign resorted to by the regime to divide and dismantle" the alliance between Bhutto and Sharif, Hasan said.


    "Musharraf should not be able to influence [forthcoming] elections"

    Nawaz Sharif,
    former Pakistan Prime Minister

    It is seen as unlikely that Bhutto would return to Pakistan without reassurance from the government that authorities would not arrest her on the corruption charges she faces.


    Both former leaders said work was needed to ensure the pending elections were impartial. They called for an independent body to be formed to monitor the process.


    "At the moment certain parties have more advantage and others have less advantage," Bhutto said.


    Sharif said: "Musharraf should not be able to influence those elections."


    The meeting on Thursday at Sharif's London home was the third this year between the two opposition leaders.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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