The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Benazir barred from filing papers

Ratto Dero (Pakistan), Aug. 30 (Reuters): Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto lost another round in her comeback bid today when election officials said she could not contest October polls as she had been convicted of failing to answer corruption charges.

Bhutto, living in self-imposed exile in Britain, said she was “very shocked” by the decision and said she would appeal to the election tribunal and, if necessary, the High Court.

“I am going to continue fighting,” she said.

Today’s ruling was on Bhutto’s nomination to run in the small southern town of Ratto Dero. She has also been nominated in her home town of Larkana, about 26 km away and for another seat reserved for women. Decisions on these are due to be announced on Sunday.

Bhutto said she would consider returning to Pakistan if her nomination was approved, even though she faced arrest.

“I can contest the election from prison,” she said. “I am confident of winning even if I am in prison.”

A lawyer for Bhutto, Ayaz Soomro, accused election authorities of “double standards” after poll officials in Lahore gave preliminary approval yesterday for another former Premier, Nawaz Sharif, to contest the October 10 polls.

Those officials said no one had objected to Sharif’s nomination, even though the military government has said he, like Bhutto, would be arrested if he returned from exile to Pakistan.

Ikhlaq Hussain Larik, Ratto Dero’s returning officer, cited Bhutto’s conviction for failing to answer corruption charges, for which she was sentenced to three years’ jail in July.

“She’s been convicted by an accountability court. She’s not qualified to contest elections,” he said. Under controversial constitutional changes introduced by military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf this month, anyone convicted of failing to answer court charges is disqualified from the polls.

Musharraf has decreed that Prime Ministers who have served twice before can not run for a third term, which would exclude both Sharif and Bhutto from taking the position again.

“If Benazir is not allowed to contest the elections, then it will be a farce election and have zero credibility.” the general secretary of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, Raza Rabbani, said.

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