Source AP ©

Caretaker Government to lead Pakistan before elections next year

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto urged the president to confer with major parties before appointing a caretaker Government until elections.

"This is how fair and free elections can be ensured," Bhutto told reporters at the close of a three-day visit to her political stronghold in southern Pakistan.

Bhutto's comments, broadcast by Pakistan's Geo news channel, come ahead of an expected announcement this month by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on a caretaker government to lead the country before parliamentary elections due by January.

Under the constitution, Musharraf must appoint the temporary government by the time the current term of parliament expires Nov. 15. None of its members would be eligible to contest seats in the vote.

Bhutto was expected to board a plane later on Monday to return to her base in the southern city of Karachi.

Bhutto, who led two governments between 1988 and 1996, returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18 after an eight-year exile on Oct. 18, following talks with Musharraf on a possible alliance to fight Islamic extremists after the elections. Suicide bombers shattered her homecoming, killing 145 people who gathered to welcome her.

Over the weekend, Bhutto made her first trip outside Karachi, visiting her ancestral village near Larkana and paying homage at her father's tomb. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was Pakistan's first popularly elected leader, overthrown by the military and hanged in 1979.

On Monday afternoon, hundreds of workers from Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party gathered at the airport at Sukkur, a city near Larkana, to see her off. They carried green, red and black party flags and chanted victory slogans as her convoy arrived.

Later Ijaz Durani, a spokesman at her Karachi residence, said she had arrived there safely.

Bhutto claims that extremist elements in the government and security services are plotting to kill her _ which the government strongly denies. The former premier says the threats to her life would not derail her campaigning for the parliamentary elections.

She says she will soon travel to the cities of Lahore and Islamabad, and that she also wanted to go to Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir and tribal areas along the Afghan border where the Taliban and al-Qaida are tightening their grip.

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