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Exiled Bhutto plans return to Pakistan

Story Highlights

• Bhutto, like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, faces arrest upon return
• Reinstatement of Pakistan's top judge is opposition's immediate goal, she says
• Bhutto says she'd be honored to be elected prime minister a third time
• She confirms Musharraf's people contacted opposition parties, including hers
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Exiled former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said Saturday she plans to return to Pakistan later this year, despite possible arrest, and doesn't rule out running for the top post again.

"I'm immediately seeking the restoration of democracy in my country," she told CNN from New York. "But if the people of Pakistan wish to vote for me and elect me as prime minister for a third time, I'd be honored."

Pakistani courts under President Pervez Musharraf have convicted Bhutto and another exiled prime minister, Nawaz Sharif -- whom Musharraf deposed in a bloodless coup in 1999 -- of various crimes, and both face arrest upon their return.

Bhutto said she does not believe she would be arrested "under the present legal system." (Watch her explain her position Video)

"Of course, if the regime wishes, they can make a new case against me," she said, adding, "Nothing has been proved against me."

Bhutto and Sharif have been in talks on a joint strategy to put pressure on Musharraf's government.

Protests erupted in Pakistan in March after Musharraf suspended the country's top judge, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, accusing him of unspecified abuses of office.

Musharraf is also head of the army and had promised to step down from that post before seeking re-election. Some observers believe Musharraf wants to retain it and suspended Chaudhry to preclude any legal challenge.

"The signal the opposition wants to send out is that an independent judiciary is critical to Pakistan's democratic development," Bhutto said. Reinstatement of Chaudhry is the opposition's immediate goal, she said.

In addition, the opposition wants Musharraf to hold free and fair parliamentary elections this year and wait until next year to hold presidential elections. Musharraf is thought to be seeking re-election this year; Bhutto said he ought to do so "without wearing the army uniform."

"We believe his term does not finish until December 2008. And we fear he is trying to get re-elected ahead of time so that he can present the people of the world with a fait accompli: That he's in the chair for the next five years," Bhutto said.

Musharraf's people have contacted different opposition parties, including hers, Bhutto confirmed, but "no agreement has been reached."

Bhutto also expressed dismay at the rise of violence at the hands of extremists in Pakistan. "I feel something is wrong where extremists have been given a long leash, and I believe my party can contain them and restrain them to bring order back to Pakistan."


Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto says the opposition wants Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry reinstated.



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