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Ex-Pakistani strongman vows return ahead of vote

KARACHI, Pakistan — Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf said he doesn't fear arrest despite facing criminal charges as he vowed Saturday to return to his homeland and contest upcoming elections after more than four years in exile.

But legal problems are only one challenge facing Musharraf as the Taliban warned they have an assassination team ready to kill the one-time military strongman if he sets foot in the country on Sunday as promised.

Musharraf announced in early March that he would return to Pakistan to take part in upcoming elections, despite allegations he was part of a conspiracy to assassinate ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, militant threats to his safety and a waning popularity. The deposed general said he would lead his party in elections scheduled for May 11.

"I am going back to save Pakistan," he told reporters Saturday during a press conference in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

Musharraf has earned a reputation as a strongman who cried wolf after failing to follow through on previous promises to return home, but the likelihood of his return this time got a boost on Friday when a Pakistan court granted him pre-emptive bail — essentially preventing his immediate arrest — in three cases in which he's implicated, including Bhutto's death. Under the pre-emptive bail, he has 10 days to appear in court, which Musharraf promised he would do.

"I will face these cases with bravery," he said. Musharraf said "elements in Pakistan and outside" were spreading rumors that he was not returning, but that the granting of the bail would address some of those concerns.

The former general plans to travel to Karachi from Dubai accompanied by journalists and supporters of his political party, All Pakistan Muslim League.

While he was given a reprieve from the legal charges, he received no such leniency from militants who have been gunning for him for years. Just hours after his announcement Saturday, the Pakistan Taliban released a video threatening to unleash suicide bombers and snipers against Musharraf if he comes back. One of the two people speaking in the video was Adnan Rashid, a former Pakistani air force officer convicted in an attack against Musharraf. The Taliban broke Rashid out of prison last year, along with nearly 400 other detainees.

"The mujahedeen of Islam have prepared a death squad to send Pervez Musharraf to hell," said Rashid, who spoke in the video in front of a group of about 20 militants holding rifles. "We warn you to surrender yourself to us. Otherwise we will hit you from where you will never reckon."

Ex-Pakistani strongman vows return ahead of vote 03/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 10:05pm]
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