Pakistan's Musharraf gets bail ahead of planned return

KARACHI (AFP) - Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf was on Friday, March 22, granted protective bail in a series of legal cases, paving the way for his return from exile without the risk of immediate arrest.

Mr Musharraf, who seized power in 1999 and left the country after stepping down in 2008, has vowed to return home on Sunday to contest the May 11 general election, but is wanted in Pakistan for conspiracy to murder and illegally arresting judges.

To preclude the prospect of his arrest on arrival, his daughter, Ms Ayla Raza, petitioned a court in Karachi on his behalf for protective bail in three cases, including the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"He has been given pre-arrival, protective bail in all three cases," Mr Musharraf's lawyer Mr Ahmad Raza Kasuri told AFP.

Judge Sajjad Ali Shah posted bail at 300,000 rupees (S$3,809) over the 2007 sacking of judges, the 2006 death of Mr Akbar Bugti, a Baluch rebel leader in the southwest, and the murder of Ms Bhutto in a gun and suicide attack.

The decision prevents Mr Musharraf being arrested for 10 days in connection with the judges' arrests and for 14 days in connection with the other two cases. Technically, Pakistan's Supreme Court could intervene to reverse the order.

"He has full protection now and he cannot be arrested in these cases upon his arrival in Pakistan," another Musharraf lawyer Salman Safdar told AFP.

At the Sindh High Court, a handful of activists from Mr Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party flashed victory signs and chanted "Long Live Musharraf" and "Musharraf will come back, he will bring prosperity".

The outgoing government led by Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) always insisted that Mr Musharraf would be arrested should be return to the country and last year he delayed a planned homecoming after being threatened with detention.

A parliamentary committee could later on Friday agree on a candidate to head up an interim government which will rule during the election campaign.

Ms Bhutto's son, Bilawal Bhutto, who is co-chairman of the PPP with his father, President Asif Ali Zardari, has accused Mr Musharraf of murdering his mother.

She was killed after an election rally in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the army, on December 27, 2007.

In 2010, a United Nations report said the murder could have been prevented and accused Mr Musharraf's government of failing to provide Ms Bhutto with adequate protection.

Mr Musharraf's government blamed the assassination on Pakistani Taleban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone attack in August 2009.

Mr Musharraf, who has divided his time between London and Dubai since stepping down in August 2008, has lost much of his power base in Pakistan.

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