Thursday, January 26, 2006

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said yesterday that “red notices” issued by Interpol for her and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, are groundless and politically motivated.

“I can catch the next airplane and return to Pakistan if necessary,” Mrs. Bhutto said at a press conference organized by the Voice of America in Washington. “Interpol might not be given the right information.”

The notices are not arrest warrants, Interpol officials told Agence France-Presse yesterday. They are notifications that “bona fide” arrest warrants exist in one of the International Criminal Police Organization’s 184 member states. The decision to act upon them is up to member countries, they said.

Akram Shaheedi, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, said Islamabad has not asked the State Department for any action regarding the notices.

Mrs. Bhutto said her attorney is contacting Interpol to confirm the warrants, and if they exist, to ask on what grounds they were issued.

Mrs. Bhutto was elected as the prime minister of Pakistan in 1988 and 1993. She and her husband are charged with corruption during her regime, including one case in Switzerland in which she is accused of taking commissions from a Swiss firm. She is under self-imposed exile and lives in Britain and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

“For nine years, I’ve been under state-sponsored prosecution, but there hasn’t been a single conviction” on the corruption charges, Mrs. Bhutto said.

She was convicted in one case and sentenced to three years in absentia, but Mrs. Bhutto said she is appealing that ruling.

The reason for the Interpol notices, Mrs. Bhutto said, was that the government of President Pervez Musharraf wants to “divert the attention” of the Pakistani people from the recent U.S. missile strike in a region bordering Afghanistan that killed at least 13 civilians.

The raid, which is thought to have killed some al Qaeda terror leaders, triggered protests from Islamist political parties.

Mrs. Bhutto said the Musharraf government cooperates with the United States only because the “military needs the war of terror in Pakistan to justify its position in the office.”

She said it is in the interest of the international community to build a pluralistic, democratic and secular Pakistan.

Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to end five years of exile in Saudi Arabia by traveling to Britain on Sunday.

Pakistani Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad announced in November that Mr. Sharif would be issued a passport so he can travel to London with his sick son.

Mr. Sharif was ousted by Gen. Musharraf in a bloodless coup in October 1999. Mr. Sharif was sentenced to life in prison on tax evasion and treason charges. Pakistani officials say he will not be allowed to return home.

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