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Pakistan's Bhutto Ends 8-Year Exile with Jubilant Homecoming

Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto are cheering her homecoming after eight years in self-imposed exile. From Islamabad, VOA's Barry Newhouse reports Ms. Bhutto's return turned into a massive political rally for her Pakistan People's Party.

As an emotional Benazir Bhutto emerged from the plane in Karachi, she told a throng of reporters that she thanked God she had arrived home.

She says she has returned with a mission to help eradicate poverty and improve the Pakistan education system, particularly for women.

Tightly packed crowds lined the streets in the southern city that has been a stronghold of support for Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.

The 54-year-old former prime minister climbed on a bulletproof truck festooned with her party's red, green and black colors, and a banner reading "Long Live Bhutto."

Thousands of police were deployed for the arrival. Islamic militants have threatened to launch suicide attacks against Ms. Bhutto, who has said Taleban and al Qaida-linked groups threaten all of Pakistan.

Ms. Bhutto and her supporters then embarked on a slow-moving procession through Karachi's crowded streets, to the tomb of Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Quaid-e-Azam).

Dressed in the green-and-white colors of Pakistan's flag, Ms. Bhutto addressed the violence that has wracked the country in recent years.

She said she wants to end the unrest in Baluchistan and the tribal areas. She said she wants to replace the message of violence and hatred with a message of peace and love.

Ms. Bhutto arrives in Pakistan at a politically critical time for President Pervez Musharraf. She has long been a critic of Pakistan's military rule under General Musharraf, who led a coup in 1999.

But in recent months she has held negotiations with the president. The reported result is a power-sharing deal that would allow Mr. Musharraf to remain president, and Ms. Bhutto to resume the post of prime minister for a third time.

Some of her party's supporters say the negotiations have damaged her ability to bring about democratic change.

Any deal between the two could still mean nothing, however. The Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Mr. Musharraf's re-election earlier this month, as well as an amnesty that led to corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto being dropped.