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Benazir launches poll campaign in London

London, Aug. 24 (Reuters): Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto launched a campaign today for October’s general elections — among a crowd of a few hundred supporters in London, where she is living in self-imposed exile.

Bhutto — who is head of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — has been banned from participating in the elections, but told her supporters she was not afraid of returning to her country despite the fact that police have said she will be arrested if she does so.

“I thank you for joining me in this historic Trafalgar Square to announce the beginning of the PPP election campaign,” she said, to cheers from PPP members who had been bused in from all over Britain. She said Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf had warned her against taking such a step, reminding her to consider her children.

“My countrypeople are my children too. They need me and I’m going to take the risk,” she declared.

Musharraf, who ousted Bhutto’s successor Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999, has decreed that Prime Ministers who have served twice cannot run for a third term — disqualifying both Bhutto and Sharif.

Bhutto is also banned under another rule which prevents people convicted of crimes running for election.

The former Prime Minister denies corruption charges pending against her, which she avoided facing when she left Pakistan. But she has twice been convicted for failing to appear in court.

“She’s very good for the country. People can make stories up any time they want to,” said PPP supporter Salim Munir, dismissing the allegations.

But among the banners reading: “Musharraf go, Musharraf no” and “Long live Democracy, Down with Dictatorship!” were a substantial number of dissenters and hecklers.

“I only support Musharraf because he doesn’t like these PPP thieves. They robbed Pakistan, they brought everything here that belongs to the people of Pakistan. I don’t like them,” said Azad Sardar, 68.

Consulate attack trial

The trial of three Islamic militants, charged with murdering 12 people in a car bomb attack outside the US consulate in Karachi, started today and the prosecution said it might call FBI officials as witnesses.

The three accused, Mohammad Imran, Mohammad Hanif and Mohammad Ashraf have all pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, attempted murder, terrorism and the use of explosives in the June 14 attack.

Public prosecutor Abdul Waheed Khan told Reuters outside a special anti-terrorism court at Karachi’s Central Jail names of FBI officials were not included in a list of 50 prosecution witnesses, but they might be called.

“It will depend on the case, if there is a need we can submit an application in the court to call FBI officials as prosecution witnesses,” he said after the opening session of the trial.

Earlier, the prosecution’s first witness, a police officer named Ali Gohar Soomro, narrated the events of the bombing.

He told the court he listed 18 vehicles damaged by the explosion but could not tell which was used for the attack.

After his testimony, court proceedings were adjourned untill August 28. The three accused were arrested in July and accused both of masterminding the consulate bombing and conspiring to kill President Pervez Musharraf.

They are members of al-Almi, an offshoot of the radical Harkat-ul-Mujahideen organisation, which has long been on a US terrorism blacklist.

The group reportedly has links to Muslim separatists fighting Indian rule in the Kashmir region.

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