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BHUTTO'S HUSBAND LAUDED IN WILL

Her endorsement may help the divisive candidate in the forthcoming election.

Benazir Bhutto's party made public Tuesday the will in which she endorsed her husband to succeed her - a move that could polish his leadership credentials ahead of elections on Feb. 18.

In the handwritten, one-page letter dated Oct. 16 - two days before her return to Pakistan from exile and 2-1/2 months before her assassination - Bhutto urged supporters to keep up her struggle.

"I fear for the future of Pakistan. Please continue the fight against extremism, dictatorship, poverty and ignorance," she wrote.

Bhutto died on Dec. 27 in a bomb and gun attack as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital, Islamabad. Her slaying prompted a six-week delay in parliamentary elections.

The party quickly named her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, as co-chairman and de facto leader, citing Bhutto's last wishes, but released the text of the letter only on Tuesday.

Zardari is a divisive figure in Pakistan. He acquired the nickname "Mr. 10 Percent" during Bhutto's two governments, in which he served as a minister, for alleged corruption.

But Bhutto maintained the accusations were politically motivated and described him as a hero for surviving years of detention on charges that were never proven.

In the letter, Bhutto recommended that Zardari lead the party "in this interim period until you (party officials and members) and he decide what is best. I say this because he is a man of courage and honor. ... He has the political stature to keep our party united."

Election fraud feared:Nawaz Sharif, who supplanted Bhutto as Pakistan's most widely known politician, has left the country. Sharif, a two-time former prime minister, went to the United Arab Emirates this week, apparently to be with his wife as she underwent surgery in Dubai.

The chairman of Sharif's political party, Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, downplayed the importance of any campaign at this point anyway. "There will be vast rigging," Zafar-ul-Haq said. "I think there will be chaos, a serious public reaction afterward."

Sharif, 58, is a bitter adversary of President Pervez Musharraf, who toppled him from power eight years ago and later threw him in jail. U.S. officials have cited Musharraf repeatedly in recent months as "indispensable" in the global fight against Islamic terrorism.

Analysts say Sharif expects postelection tumult to force Musharraf from power and a period of political confusion to ensue.

Information from the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.

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