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Benazir files papers to contest polls

London, Aug. 22 (Reuters): Pakistan’s exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said she had filed papers today to stand in October parliamentary elections, in defiance of a ban on her running in the poll.

“I’ve gone to the courts and I’ve become the first Pakistani today to file my nomination papers,” Bhutto told Britain’s Sky News television channel. “I’m hoping for a favourable result.”

President Pervez 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, a move that excludes both ex-Premiers from resuming power.

Bhutto is also disqualified under a rule banning people convicted of crimes. Last month, she was sentenced to three years in jail in a corruption case tried in absentia, and other corruption charges are still outstanding. She says the accusations against her are baseless.

“I dispute the fact that they are corruption charges. They are politically motivated charges by a regime that fears my popular strength,” Bhutto said.

“Musharraf is seeking to ban me because he knows I can get elected. So it makes a mockery of the process if the leading candidate in the country is banned from participating.”

Bhutto fiercely criticised constitutional amendments unveiled by Musharraf yesterday that will help him wield overall power after the October elections.

The changes empower Musharraf to dismiss an elected parliament, name heads of military services and chair a civilian-military National Security Council to oversee the government formed after the October 10 vote.

He says the elected parliament would have the right to undo his amendments with a two-thirds majority, but has warned it would bring it into conflict with him.

“It’s a bit shocking that the general has given himself dictatorial powers. He’s calling dictatorship democracy,” Bhutto said.

Bhutto, whose two terms in office ended when she was sacked by the President on charges of corruption, said the power of successive Pakistani Presidents had undermined its democracy.

Bhutto filed a court petition in her native Sindh province to challenge the election ban earlier this month. Today, the provincial high court in Karachi allowed her lawyer to file an amended petition in light of the constitutional changes.

Her lawyer, Kamal Afzar, asked the court to instruct the elections commission to accept Bhutto's nomination papers.

The attorney general opposed Afzar's motion saying it was unnecessary.

The court is expected to decide the issue on Tuesday, Afzar said.

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