LAHORE, PAKISTAN, SEPT. 23 -- A special court today ordered ousted prime minister Benazir Bhutto to stand trial next month on charges of corruption and misconduct during her 20 months in power.
Justice Rashid Aziz Khan issued the notice to Bhutto, saying the army-backed caretaker government had sufficient evidence to support its claim. He ordered the civil proceedings to start Oct. 2.
If convicted, Bhutto could be disqualified from the Oct. 24 election and barred from politics for up to seven years.
Bhutto would have the right to appeal to the Lahore High Court and then to the Supreme Court, a process that most likely would not be completed before next month's ballot.
Bhutto, the first woman to lead a modern Moslem nation, won election in November 1988 and took office a month later. She now is a candidate for five seats in the 217-member National Assembly, the lawmaking lower house of Parliament.
Her aides say Bhutto is running for more than one post in case she is disqualified from one seat.
Bhutto's aides refused comment on the judge's decision. Bhutto previously has called the charges "a political vendetta" and said she would not appear before the special one-judge tribunals.
If she refuses to appear, legal experts say Bhutto could be tried in absentia and held in contempt of court, possibly facing a fine or arrest.
President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, using his constitutional powers, dismissed Bhutto's government Aug. 6 on charges of corruption, nepotism, political incompetence and abuse of power. He alleged that Bhutto's government used tens of millions of dollars in special funds to buy votes and private business deals, charges that the former prime minister and her government have denied.