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Gunmen kill three Benazir supporters

Quetta, Dec. 8 (AP): Three supporters of Pakistan Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto were killed today when gunmen attacked her party’s office in a town in southwestern Pakistan, police said.

This is the first reported deaths in the current election campaign.

Officers were investigating the early morning incident, which occurred in Naseerabad, about 250km east of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, said Wajid Akbar, the district police chief. Police had no immediate information about the motive for the attack or who was behind it, he said.

Although killings and other violence have been common in past elections in Pakistan, the bloodshed in Naseerabad was the first such incident in the campaign for parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8.

Pakistan has been engulfed in a political crisis since November 3, when President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and fired supreme court justices who were preparing to rule on the validity of his October re-election. He then replaced the fired judges with his loyalists, who promptly dismissed all complaints against the former general’s election.

Since then, Bhutto and another former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif — whose government was ousted by Musharraf in a coup in 1999 — have been trying to reach agreement on a set of demands that would allow their two parties to participate in the ballot.

Both have accused Musharraf, who retired from the army last month before being sworn in as a civilian President, of planning to rig the elections.

Sharif, who leads the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, has been pushing for a boycott of the vote, a move that would undermine Musharraf’s US-backed efforts to transform his military dictatorship into a democratic, civilian administration.

He has insisted that the supreme court judges fired by Musharraf be reinstated before the vote. But Bhutto, a two-time Prime Minister, has indicated she would prefer to reinstate them after the elections.

Sharif told supporters today in Gujranwala that his party would sweep the polls if it participates and urged people not to vote for pro-Musharraf candidates, according to the ARY news channel.

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