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Pakistan court indicts Musharraf in Bhutto murder

By Aliza Kassim, Josh Levs, and Jethro Mullen, CNN
August 20, 2013 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Musharraf's spokesman calls the accusation "false, fabricated and fictitious"
  • Musharraf was in court for the indictment
  • Pakistan's first female prime minister was killed while campaigning in 2007
  • Musharraf has been under house arrest since April

(CNN) -- A Pakistani court Tuesday indicted President Pervez Musharraf, charging him with murder in the death of the country's first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. It marked the first time an ex-military chief has been indicted with a crime in the country, his spokesman Raza Bokhari said.

The court charged Musharraf with murder, criminal conspiracy to murder, and facilitation of murder.

Bhutto was assassinated in a gun-suicide attack in December 2007, shortly after she came back to Pakistan from self-imposed exile to take part in the 2008 general elections. Musharraf was president and military chief at the time, and Bhutto was a leading opposition figure.

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Musharraf was in court Tuesday for the indictment. He denies any involvement in Bhutto's death.

The next court proceedings in the case are scheduled for August 27.

"The politically motivated indictment... is not only false, fabricated and fictitious, but is also an undignified attempt to smear the honor and integrity of the former president on the world stage," Musharraf spokesman Raza Bokhari said in a statement.

The indictment comes after a preliminary judicial process in which authorities presented their case against him. The indictment means that the court concluded he has to answer for the allegations.

Although Musharraf has been accused of other crimes in the country, no other cases have gotten as far as an indictment.

Just two weeks ago, Musharraf's attorney said Musharraf was expected to be charged with failing to provide adequate security for Bhutto -- not murder.

After the assassination, Musharraf's government blamed former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, saying he had paid a network of Islamist militants to carry out the killing.

Bhutto had the "same security and threats" that Musharraf faces now, Bokhari told CNN Tuesday. "It is unfair to blame a sitting head of state for complicity in a violent action that occurs in a country."

After the general elections in 2008 in which his party was trounced, Musharraf stepped down as the governing coalition began taking steps to impeach him.

He then went into self-imposed exile.

From president to exile

Earlier this year, he returned to Pakistan in an attempt to revive his political career. It didn't work.

Instead, he's become entangled in a thicket of court cases related to his time as the country's top leader. He has been under house arrest since April.

He is under investigation for the 2006 assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a popular tribal leader, in the volatile province of Balochistan.

He is also accused of detaining judges and their family members and wrongdoing related to the storming of the Lal Masjid mosque, where militants had holed up.

Musharraf has been under house arrest in the suburbs of Islamabad.

Along with him, nine others face related accusations, including three senior police officers.

The recently elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a longtime political foe of Musharraf, has also suggested that the former military ruler should stand trial for treason.

Sharif has accused Musharraf of illegally abrogating the constitution in November 2007.

That month, Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended Pakistan's constitution, replaced the chief judge and blacked out independent TV outlets.

Musharraf said he did so to stabilize the country and to fight rising Islamic extremism.

Such a prosecution of a former top general would be likely to strain the already delicate relations between Sharif and Pakistan's powerful military.

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CNN's Khushbu Shah contributed to this report.

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