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Pakistan Minister Says Musharraf-Bhutto Alliance Nearly Complete

Pakistani officials say the country's embattled president, General Pervez Musharraf, has nearly completed a power-sharing agreement with rival Benazir Bhutto. From Islamabad, VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Pakistan railway minister and presidential confidante Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters the deal has almost been finalized.

Former Prime Minister Bennazir Bhutto has sought to end Pervez Musharraf's dual role as president and army chief before any possible agreement.

Ahmed insists that issue is now nearly out of the way.

He says the debate over the uniform is almost resolved and the deal is now about 80 percent complete.

The president is seeking another five-year term in elections expected later this year. But his opponents insist he cannot be re-elected as long as he is serving as a general.

Local media report that Ms. Bhutto also wants an end to constitutional limits preventing her from serving a third term as prime minister.

Ms. Bhutto lives in self-imposed exile, but still runs Pakistan's single-largest opposition party.

The possible deal comes as popular support for the president is at an all-time low and legal challenges to his re-election intensify.

The Supreme Court is reviewing several petitions against the president's dual roles. It is also considering objections to the president's plan to be re-elected by the country's existing legislature.

Ms. Bhutto has seen her own political fortunes decline in recent weeks. She faces charges of political opportunism and hypocrisy after negotiating with her rival, President Musharraf.

A second former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, insists the president must step down for the good of the country. President Musharraf exiled Mr. Sharif to Saudi Arabia in 2000, a year after seizing power in a military coup.

But the Supreme Court just ended Mr. Sharif's exile and he is expected to return to Pakistan in the next few weeks, more popular than ever.

Washington has been keeping a close eye on the political debate in Pakistan, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror. U.S. officials back Mr. Musharraf publicly, but have reportedly urged him to consider an alliance with Ms. Bhutto.