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Pakistan to Grant Amnesty to Benazir Bhutto


Pakistan's government has agreed to drop corruption charges against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Daniel Schearf reports for VOA from Islamabad the ruling party of President General Pervez Musharraf needs Ms. Bhutto's support in this week's presidential election.

A minister in Pakistan's government says the cabinet and most ruling-party leaders agreed to grant Ms. Bhutto the amnesty during an urgent meeting called by the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said the decision was made during discussions about opposition party resignations and negotiations with Ms. Bhutto's party on a power-sharing deal.

He says the government wants support from her Pakistan People's Party in Saturday's controversial presidential election.

"Of course we need for the credibility of this presidential election we need their support. And, she has to decide tomorrow or day after tomorrow her position about presidential election," said Ahmad. "So, we want to cushion and give her cushion."

Earlier, more than 80 opposition members of parliament resigned in attempt to take legitimacy away from President Musharraf's re-election bid.

Pakistan's president is chosen by members of its national and provincial assemblies.

Mr. Musharraf came to power in a 1999 military coup and later arranged to be president. Opposition parties argue Pakistan's constitution says he should not be allowed to run for president while head of the army.

Ms. Bhutto's party has also threatened to resign, but has not yet made its final decision.

Ms. Bhutto has been negotiating for months with General Musharraf on a power-sharing deal that would see him re-elected president and her elected prime minister.

The Pakistan People's Party is the largest political organization in Pakistan and its support for the election might lend some credibility to General Musharraf's candidacy.

Ms. Bhutto has several demands besides amnesty for her and other civilian leaders during her time in power. She also wants an extension on term limits for prime minister from two to three terms and for President Musharraf to first step down as head of the army before running for re-election.

Mr. Musharraf has appointed former head of intelligence Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiani to succeed him as head of the military if he wins the election, as he is expected to.

The Pakistan People's Party has fielded its own candidate for the presidency, Makhdoom Amin Faheem, but has said it might withdraw the nomination in protest if Mr. Musharraf refuses to step down as military leader before the election. Supporters of the other main candidate, former Supreme Court justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, have said he may also withdraw his candidacy.

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