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Pakistan court indicts Musharraf in Bhutto killing (VIDEO)

Pakistan’s former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf arrives April 20 at an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad, Pakistan. A Pakistani court Tuesday indicted Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of iconic Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, deepening the fall of a once-powerful figure who returned to the country this year in an effort to take part in elections.

Pakistan’s former President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf arrives April 20 at an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad, Pakistan. A Pakistani court Tuesday indicted Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of iconic Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, deepening the fall of a once-powerful figure who returned to the country this year in an effort to take part in elections.

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) — In an unprecedented ruling that tests the military’s aura of inviolability, a court indicted former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf Tuesday on murder charges stemming from the 2007 assassination of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

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Former Pakistan president indicted for murder

Musharraf, who became a key U.S. ally in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, pleaded not guilty.

The decision by the court in Rawalpindi marked the first time a current or former army chief has been charged with a crime in the country.

Musharraf, a 70-year-old former commando who took power in a 1999 coup and stepped down from office in disgrace nearly a decade later, now faces a string of legal problems that in many ways challenge the military’s sacrosanct status in Pakistani society.

The retired general was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and facilitation for murder, said prosecutor Chaudhry Muhammed Azhar.

He did not detail the accusations against Musharraf, but prosecutors have alleged he failed to provide enough protection to Bhutto as she led her Pakistan People’s Party in a parliamentary election that might have given her a third term as prime minister. She was killed in a gun and bomb attack at a rally in Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad.

The charges also include clearing the scene of a crime and destroying evidence, Azhar said.

Bhutto was respected by many Pakistanis for her condemnation of militancy and support for the poor. But her premiership was marred by accusations of widespread corruption.

Her assassination set off protests across the country and helped propel her party to power in parliament and her husband to the presidency.

Bhutto’s supporters say Musharraf ignored requests for additional security, and a 2010 U.N. report on her death said he failed to make serious efforts to ensure Bhutto’s safety.

The court also harshly criticized investigators for hosing down the crime scene, failing to perform an autopsy and quickly blaming a Taliban commander for the assassination.

The prosecutor said he has a list of 148 witnesses and documents including a note Bhutto sent to a close friend complaining that Musharraf was not providing her with proper security.

The judge set Aug. 27 as the next court date to present evidence. But Pakistan court cases can drag on for years, and convictions are often overturned on appeal.

But analysts questioned whether the evidence would be sufficient.

“To me, it would be very difficult to prove unless they can show an order by him,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst. “You can’t really get hold of a president simply because security was not adequate.”

The chief U.N. investigator looking into Bhutto’s death, Heraldo Munoz, wrote in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine that Bhutto feared militant sympathizers within Musharraf’s government. But Munoz, who has authored a book on the investigation, said Bhutto likely didn’t think Musharraf actually wanted to kill her.

“Even Bhutto, despite her email pointing a finger at Musharraf, probably did not believe that Musharraf wanted her dead — only that some people around him did,” he wrote.

Musharraf’s supporters have described the Bhutto case and others against him as politically motivated.

“These are all fabricated cases. There is nothing solid in all these cases,” said Afshan Adil, a member of Musharraf’s legal team.

Musharraf returned from the brief hearing to his plush suburban house in Islamabad where he is under house arrest in another case.

The prosecutor said he has a list of 148 witnesses and documents including a letter Bhutto sent to a close friend complaining that Musharraf was not providing her with proper security.

The judge set Aug. 27 as the next court date to present evidence. But Pakistan court cases can drag on for years, and convictions are often overturned on appeal.

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