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Bhutto discusses power-sharing deal with senior party officials

Bhutto discusses power-sharing deal with senior party officials

Ex-Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto and her top party leaders were deciding in Saturday talks whether to accept a power-sharing agreement with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
A daylong session on Friday ended without conclusion.
Saturday's talks will also address arrangements for Bhutto's return home after several years in exile. She could return in early October, party spokesman Wajid Hasan said.
Musharraf and Bhutto have been wrangling for months over the terms of an agreement that would shore up his fraught re-election bid and allow her to return to contest parliamentary elections.
However, she has yet to win a public commitment from Musharraf on two critical points _ that he step down as army chief and give up the power to dismiss the government and parliament.
Bhutto met with a team of Musharraf officials earlier this week to lay out proposals for a possible pact. The talks have yet to yield an outcome.
Officials from her Pakistan People's Party are waiting for an official response from Musharraf's camp over their proposals for a return to democracy.
Musharraf, who has governed Pakistan virtually unchallenged for eight years after he seized power in 1999, now finds himself in a three-way fight for power with Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the man he deposed in a bloodless coup.
The general once vowed not to let either return to Pakistan, accusing them of corruption and mismanaging Pakistan in the 1990s, when each served two truncated terms.
But he has lost support since a botched attempt to fire the country's top judge in March spawned street protests and widespread calls for an end to military rule.
Musharraf recently began calling for moderates to unite against extremism amid growing pressure from the United States to crack down on the spreading influence of militant groups linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Sharif vowed Thursday to return to Pakistan on Sept. 10 to wage a "decisive battle against dictatorship."
Bhutto had named Aug. 31 as the date by which her party needed clear concessions from Musharraf if negotiations were to continue in an effort put pressure on the government to accede to her demands.
Musharraf aides responded Thursday by denying her claim that he had decided to quit as army chief before presidential elections due between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15.
Bhutto's spokesman Farhatullah Babar in Pakistan suggested Friday her party could only allow government envoys a little more time to respond or see the tentative deal collapse.
Sharif on Thursday described Bhutto's dealings with Musharraf as a "gross violation" of an opposition pact to fight for the restoration of democracy.
Despite their differences, Babar insisted Bhutto could still join Sharif in outright opposition to Musharraf.
Any collapse of the Bhutto-Musharraf talks would likely alarm Pakistan's Western backers, including the United States, which is hoping the next government will maintain Pakistan's efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Bhutto is trying to convince voters and skeptics in her own party that Musharraf's support among the military and international community means he still has a role to play.
Sharif, however, is at loggerheads with the general, and has aligned in the past and in the current struggle with Islamist parties that voice support for the Taliban and deplore Musharraf's alliance with the United States.
Misgivings about the return of the exiled leaders is strong in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party pulled together after the coup to support Musharraf's government.
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Associated Press writers Stephen Graham and Munir Ahmad in Islamabad, Pakistan, and David Stringer and Romina Spina in London contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-02-28 06:16 GMT+08:00