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Parties split over poll boycott

Islamabad, Nov. 30 (Agencies): Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto published her manifesto for a January election today, promising jobs for the poor if victorious but keeping open the option of boycotting the vote.

Another Opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has said he and his allies will boycott the vote in defiance of President Pervez Musharraf, and he aims to persuade Bhutto to join them.

The US and other western allies hope a free and fair general election on January 8 will restore stability in their nuclear-armed Muslim ally, where Musharraf was sworn in as a civilian President yesterday.

However, in an interview with ABC television channel’s Good Morning America, Musharraf said he may give up power if the situation in Pakistan becomes “unacceptable”. he also dismissed reports saying that he was in the process of entering into a “deal” with Bhutto.

Musharraf, who bowed to international pressure and stepped down as army chief on Wednesday, has promised to lift emergency rule on December 16 to allow the vote to go ahead.

Bhutto said her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the country’s biggest, would take part in the election under protest.

“At this moment we are preparing to take part,” Bhutto told a news conference. “We are doing it under protest, we are not giving it any legitimacy,” said Bhutto who returned to Pakistan in October from eight years in self-imposed exile.

She promised a public works programme to employ the poor, access to a doctor for all and better housing for the disadvantaged, courting votes among the 25 per cent of Pakistanis who live in poverty.

Bhutto’s two terms as Prime Minister in the late 1980s and 1990s were marred by accusations of corruption and mismanagement that will hang over this election campaign.

Bhutto left open the possibility of joining Sharif in a boycott: “We are ready to change our mind if we can find common ground, common agenda and a common goal.”

Bhutto wants the emergency Musharraf imposed on November 3 to fend off legal challenges to his rule lifted immediately. She also wants the election commission reconstituted and local-level government leaders suspended to ensure a fair vote.

Sharif, who ended seven years of exile on Sunday, said he and his allies had decided “in principle” to boycott the vote unless judges purged under emergency rule were reinstated. Dismissed judges are still under house arrest.

Sharif, who might be barred from running because of criminal convictions he says were politically motivated, will meet Bhutto to try to persuade her to boycott, a party spokesman said.

President’s new jet

A new executive jet has been bought for exclusive use by Musharraf. The 10-seat Learjet brings the number of aircraft in Pakistan’s executive fleet to 14. “American pilots, who brought the jet here a few days ago, have started training their Pakistani counterparts,” a source told the Dawn.

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