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Bhutto corruption charges dropped

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Musharraf drops outstanding corruption charges against Bhutto
  • Official results to be declared no sooner than October 17, court directs
  • Bhutto's opposition party will not join a boycott against a vote on Saturday
  • Saturday's poll is expected to give Gen. Pervez Musharraf a third term
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf signed a "reconciliation ordinance" Friday that drops outstanding corruption charges against former premier Benazir Bhutto and a number of other politicians -- a move that can pave the way for a power-sharing deal with Bhutto.

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President Musharraf of Pakistan has pledged to stand down as chief of the military if he is re-elected.

Musharraf's office announced he had signed the new law.

But Bhutto's party said it was still waiting for formal notification about the law, but welcomed the power-sharing negotiations, the Associated Press reported.

Earlier, pakistan's Supreme Court ruled Friday that the country's presidential elections can go ahead Saturday, but stipulated the results cannot be ratified until legal challenges are cleared.

An unofficial vote count is expected to be released Saturday after the parliament votes on electing the president. However, the country will have to wait at least 11 days before the high court rules whether Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, the acknowledged front runner, is eligible to take up a third five-year term while wearing his general's uniform.

His current term expires Nov. 15, but Musharraf is expected to secure the more than 50 percent of votes in parliament needed to secure a new mandate.

Opposition lawyers have appealed a high court decision last week to reject petitions filed by the opposition, who contend that the U.S.-backed leader cannot run for president without first stepping down as Pakistan's military chief.

Those court proceedings will resume Oct. 17, effectively holding the country in political limbo in the meantime. If the court rules he is ineligible to hold office as president the second runner-up will take office instead, as the constitution stipulates.

At least 100 Pakistani opposition lawmakers have resigned as a sign of solidarity, but their moves are not expected to affect Saturday's vote by parliament and four provincial assemblies.

Over the weekend, Pakistan's election commission handed Musharraf a key victory, accepting his nomination to seek a third term. That decision prompted clashes between police and anti-Musharraf protesters.

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Musharraf led the 1999 coup as Pakistan's army chief, a position he has been reluctant to relinquish because traditionally the real power base resides in the military, not with the Pakistani people.

However, on Wednesday Musharraf reiterated his promise to step down as army chief if he is elected to another term.

The president has seen his power erode since a failed effort earlier this year to fire the Supreme Court's chief justice. His administration is also struggling to contain a surge in Islamic militancy.

In efforts to build up credibility, Musharraf has been in negotiations with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to strike a power-sharing deal.

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On Friday, Musharraf was expected to announce a deal that would dissolve long-standing corruption charges against Bhutto, according to a source inside Pakistan's government.

In return, the president could gain support from her Pakistan Peoples Party and a veneer of respectability amid a boycott of opposition parties in the parliament. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Benazir BhuttoNawaz SharifPervez MusharrafPakistan

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