Bhutto Out as Premier in Pakistan

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By Kamran Khan
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 7, 1996

KARACHI, PAKISTAN, NOV. 5 (TUESDAY) -- Pakistani President Farooq Leghari dismissed Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto early today and dissolved the National Assembly in a decree he said was mandated by corruption, political violence and financial mismanagement by Bhutto's government.

The president's action, while legal under the constitution, was backed up by army troops who surrounded Bhutto's house in Islamabad, the capital, as well as the parliament and radio and television stations in major cities. The country's airports were closed. Bhutto, 43, who was elected prime minister in 1993, was reported to be in her residence but not under formal detention.

The decree, which marked the second time that Bhutto has been dismissed from the prime minister's office on charges of corruption, delivered a new blow to Pakistan's faltering democracy. Under relentless pressure from the military, no elected Pakistani prime minister has finished a full term in office, and Bhutto's predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, was forced to resign.

Leghari, who issued his decree at 1:45 a.m., called for new elections to be held Feb. 3. Malik Meraj Khalid, a founding member of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, took over as acting prime minister later in the day. Khalid, a former speaker of parliament, told reporters, "Our first priority will be to hold free, fair and impartial elections."

Bhutto's dismissal came amid a bitter political struggle with the Supreme Court, which recently thwarted her attempt to appoint political loyalists as judges by ruling that judicial appointments are the prerogative of the president. Bhutto also was haunted by charges that she and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, had collected bribes and kickbacks on government contracts and transferred the millions of dollars into foreign bank accounts and property holdings.

Well-placed officials said that in August, the army had warned Leghari about growing unrest in its ranks and had provided him with evidence about corruption involving Zardari. An official said Zardari and about 20 other party members had been arrested.

Bhutto denied the charges against her and as recently as Sunday vowed to complete her five-year term, saying, "We cannot imagine {Leghari} using his powers to dismiss the government." This morning her spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, said Bhutto had received a letter from the president at her home in Islamabad and would comment later in the day.

Bhutto, daughter of Pakistan's first elected leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, portrayed herself abroad as a woman struggling against powerful military and political adversaries to bring economic liberalization and social moderation to her Muslim country of 134 million. After her father was hanged in 1979 following a 1977 military coup, she spent years in exile in the West, earning degrees from Harvard and Oxford.

In government, however, Bhutto has appeared unwilling or unable to rein in widespread corruption, stabilize Pakistan's finances or stop mounting ethnic and religious violence. Her government's relations with the United States were relatively good, but were troubled by Pakistan's repeated purchases of advanced military equipment from China, including components for nuclear weapons manufacturing.

A State Department spokesman in Washington said Monday evening that the Clinton administration would have no immediate comment on Bhutto's removal.

Bhutto's first stint in office, which began when she was appointed prime minister in 1988, lasted just two years and was, like the term that was ended today, marked by allegations of corruption. Her husband and father were accused of orchestrating improper deals involving government-owned land, and she was faulted for clashes with military leaders and for inaction in the face of civil strife in her home state, Sindh.

In his decree, Leghari said Bhutto was responsible for killings of political opponents. Karachi has been wracked by about 2,000 murders in the last several years, many of them directed against minority ethnic groups opposed to the government.

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© 1996 The Washington Post Company

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