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Bhutto Pledges Return to Democracy on Eve of Homecoming


Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto says her arrival in Pakistan on Thursday will mark the country's transition from dictatorship to democracy. In a televised address from Dubai carried live on major Pakistani news channels, Ms. Bhutto also denied reaching a power-sharing deal with President Pervez Musharraf. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

Speaking in Dubai, former Prime Minister Bhutto said she expects more than one-million people to greet her when she arrives in Karachi despite threats of attacks from Islamic militants.

"My return heralds for the people of Pakistan, the turn in the wheel from dictatorship to democracy, from exploitation to empowerment, from violence to peace," she said.

In Karachi, police are sealing off roads and preparing bomb squads for Ms. Bhutto's arrival Thursday.

At a news conference in Dubai, Ms. Bhutto said any attacker would regret trying to assassinate her, because it would violate the tenets of Islam.

Politicians with fundamentalist Muslim parties have warned that Ms. Bhutto's arrival could damage efforts to end fighting in tribal areas. She has pledged to support President Musharraf's campaign against militants.

Ms. Bhutto denied allegations that her Pakistan People's Party negotiated a secret power-sharing deal with President Musharraf. His government has agreed to drop corruption charges against her, and many Pakistanis believe the PPP agreed in return not to boycott Mr. Musharraf's presidential election.

"I would like to clarify that as far as the Pakistan People's Party is concerned, we have not done any deal," she said.

She said her party had conducted what she called "negotiations" for the transition to democracy. Mr. Musharraf came to power in 1999 in a military coup and he remains head of the army, as well as president.

The Supreme Court is considering legal challenges to the constitutionality of her amnesty deal.

In a separate case challenging the recent deportation of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, justices ordered the head of the immigration agency to explain who was involved in Mr. Sharif's expulsion.

General Musharraf ousted Mr. Sharif in 1999 and forced him into exile. Last month, he tried to return, but government officials immediately sent him back out of the country.

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