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Court restores bail for Bhutto's husband
Updated: 2004-12-22 20:27

The husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was granted bail Wednesday, a day after he was arrested as he arrived at an airport near Islamabad to address a political rally.

Asif Ali Zardari was arrested just a month after he was freed on bail after spending eight years in jail awaiting trial in other cases. He has since emerged as a prominent opposition figure, irking President Gen. Pervez Musharraf by calling for national elections in 2005, two years ahead of schedule.

Two judges at Sindh High Court granted bail of $5,000 and ordered Zardari to be released, his lawyer Abu Bakar Zardari said.

"We will deposit the surety today. After that, he will be released," said the lawyer, who is unrelated to his client.

The arrest prevented him from addressing a rally that could have been politically embarrassing to Musharraf. A clash ensued between police and members of Ms. Bhutto's party who came to the airport to greet him. Several people were injured and at least 71 were detained.

Zardari's detention was a setback for hopes of reconciliation between Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has faced criticism for reneging on a promise to resign as army chief. The president has said he needs his uniform the source of most of his power to pursue his fight against Islamic militants and peace talks with India.

On Wednesday, Zardari's lawyers filed a petition a challenging the High Court ruling that had ordered his arrest.

Zardari is accused of plotting the 1996 murders of a former judge and his son. His lawyers claimed Tuesday's arrest order, citing his failure to appear in court for the trial, was "illegal in nature and passed in haste."

Lawyer Abu Bakar Zardari said the bail granted Wednesday was subject to a court decision on the petition.

Zardari blamed authorities for the clashes at the airport.

"The rulers are afraid of me. I am not going to launch any movement ... I am trying to save Pakistan," he told reporters late Tuesday. "I will be free again and will continue my efforts for democracy."

Late Tuesday, authorities in Sindh, Zardari's home province and his power base, banned rallies apparently to prevent street protests by his supporters.

Zardari's release last month was widely seen as the result of a deal with the government. As Bhutto's former minister for investment, he had spent eight years in jail on corruption charges that his supporters claim are politically motivated.

Bhutto was twice elected prime minister and still commands strong support in southern Pakistan. Both her governments were dismissed for allegations of corruption and misrule in the first half of the 1990s. She lives in exile in Britain and the United Arab Emirates to avoid arrest in corruption cases.

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