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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 19:48 GMT 20:48 UK
Bhutto announces Pakistan return
Pakistani ex-PM Benazir Bhutto
Ms Bhutto says Pakistan needs "internal reconciliation"
Pakistan's former PM Benazir Bhutto will return from self-imposed exile on 18 October, she has told the BBC.

Ms Bhutto said she felt confident that the people of Pakistan would "rally around me" because they wanted democracy restored.

She faces possible corruption charges on her return to Pakistan.

Ms Bhutto, who leads the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has been trying unsuccessfully to reach a power-sharing deal with President Pervez Musharraf.

She says he cannot be both president and head of the army.

'False charges'

"Pakistan is a military dictatorship, led by a sitting chief of army staff," Ms Bhutto told BBC radio.

The ball is now in General Musharraf's court
Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's ex-PM

The Pakistani authorities said earlier on Friday they would not obstruct Ms Bhutto's return, but she would still have to face corruption charges in court

In response, Ms Bhutto said there was "nothing new in these threats".

"I'm not worried about these false charges," she added.

She also confirmed that the power-sharing talks with Gen Musharraf had stalled, because "the people around General Musharraf were thoroughly opposed to any understanding between us".

"The ball is now in General Musharraf's court. If he wants to hold fair, free and impartial elections, I think he really needs to do a deal with the opposition," she said.

Supporters of Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says it is not yet clear whether she will return as the general's opponent or his main political support.

Analysts say the failure of the ruling pro-military PML-Q party to bring greater support and legitimacy to the army-led government forced Gen Musharraf to seek a dialogue with Ms Bhutto, whose party received the largest number of votes in the 2002 elections.

Another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, made an abortive bid to return to Pakistan on Monday to challenge Gen Musharraf.

He was deported to Saudi Arabia within hours, after being charged with money laundering and corruption.

The government says Ms Bhutto will not face deportation.

'Long live Benazir'

Ms Bhutto's supporters erupted into chants of "Long Live Benazir! Prime Minister Benazir!" when the announcement was first made by the PPP's vice president, Makhdoom Amin Fahim.

He called on supporters and voters to receive Ms Bhutto on her arrival at the airport in Karachi, the capital of her home province of Sindh.

23 Aug: Supreme Court says exiled ex-PM Nawaz Sharif can return
10 Sep: Mr Sharif arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia on his return to Pakistan
11 Sep: Lawyers for Mr Sharif challenge his deportation in the Supreme Court
15 Sep-15 Oct: Timeframe Gen Musharraf has set for his re-election as president by parliament
18 Oct: Date ex-PM Benazir Bhutto has set for her homecoming
15 November: Parliament expires and general election must be held

"We only need the support of the people of Pakistan", Mr Fahim said when asked about the PPP's negotiations with Gen Musharraf.

Ms Bhutto's scheduled return comes shortly after Gen Musharraf is expected to seek to extend his eight-year rule in indirect elections that he says will be held sometime between 15 September and 15 October.

Parliamentary elections are expected to be held by January 2008.

Ms Bhutto has held talks with the government, indicating that her party may be willing to accept Gen Musharraf if he gives up his post as the army chief.

She wants to strike down a constitutional clause that gives the president discretionary powers to dissolve assemblies and governments.

She has also demanded the withdrawal of cases against her and Mr Sharif, and wants to reverse a constitutional amendment that bars prime ministerial candidates from seeking more than two terms in office.

The current law would disqualify both Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif. Ms Bhutto served as prime minister - from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996.

She was dismissed for alleged corruption on both occasions and left Pakistan in 1999, although she was never convicted.

Benazir Bhutto on her talks with General Musharraf

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