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Former Pakistani PM Bhutto Launches Election Campaign; Still Considering Boycott

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto launched her election campaign Saturday, traveling to Pakistan's northern tribal area to appeal to voters.

During a campaign stop in the northern city of Peshawar, Ms. Bhutto promised to bring peace and security to the ethnic Pashtuns living along the Afghan border. The capital city of the Northwest Frontier Province is largely controlled by Islamist groups.

The former prime minister announced Friday that her Pakistan People's Party will take part in the January 8 parliamentary elections "under protest."

Ms. Bhutto is still considering not participating, with party officials today saying she will meet with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday to discuss a joint boycott of the upcoming poll.

Mr. Sharif has said the election will be meaningless unless the judges who were removed under emergency rule are re-instated.

Former cricketeer and opposition leader Imran Khan has criticized Ms. Bhutto 's decision to launch a campaign, saying she should join other opposition parties in boycotting the January elections.

Pakistani election officials have barred Mr. Sharif's brother, Shahbaz Sharif, from running in the election. Officials allege that Shahbaz Sharif defaulted on a bank loan and was involved in a murder case during his time as chief minister of the Punjab province.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has promised to lift emergency rule on December 16. He has relinquished his role as military chief and was sworn in for a second five-year term as civilian president on Thursday.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Saturday he hopes that ties between India and Pakistan will further enhance peace and stability in the region.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.