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Pakistan's Musharraf holds talks with ex-premier Bhutto

July 29, 2007|From the Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — President Pervez Musharraf held secret talks with opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a government minister said Saturday. News media widely reported that the once-bitter rivals discussed a power-sharing deal.

An alliance could strengthen the increasingly beleaguered Musharraf, a key U.S. ally, by bringing the secular, liberal opposition into his government amid growing concern about a rise in Islamic militancy.

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the president and Bhutto "held a successful meeting" Friday in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emriates.

But the talks reportedly stalled over Bhutto's insistence that Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in 1999, quit his military post if he hopes to remain president.

"Whatever we have done and are doing, it is for democracy and social and economic rights of the people of Pakistan," Bhutto, leader of the secular Pakistan People's Party, the country's largest opposition group, said from London. She repeatedly dodged the question when asked whether she had met with him.

Bhutto said Saturday that "we do not accept President Musharraf in uniform." She has also said he must give up the power to fire the prime minister and dissolve the parliament.

Political analysts such as Rasul Bakhsh Rais of Lahore University of Management Sciences said the United States and Britain would welcome a Musharraf-Bhutto deal because it would strengthen his political capital and his ability to combat militancy while moving the country back toward democracy.

However, a pact would face significant hurdles.

There is a constitutional ban on anyone holding the prime minister's post more than twice. Bhutto, who served as prime minister once in the 1980s and again in the 1990s, is also wanted on corruption charges that forced her into exile in 1999.

Bhutto, who has positioned herself as a champion of democracy, has been critical of Musharraf, calling him a dictator.

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