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Interpol issues notices seeking arrest of former Pakistani Prime Minister

Interpol has issued international notices, at Pakistan's request, seeking the arrest of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband on corruption charges, officials said Thursday. Speaking by phone from France, Interpol spokeswoman Rachael Billington confirmed that "red notices" had been issued for Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, but that it was up to member countries to decide what, if any, action to take.

Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the government's anti-corruption body had asked Interpol to issue the notices. Bhutto, who was prime minister in the late 1980s and early 1990s, lives in exile in England and the United Arab Emirates. She and her husband are wanted in Pakistan in connection with several graft cases. They are currently visiting the United States.

Since her fall from power, Bhutto and her husband have been convicted in Pakistan on corruption charges that date back to her tenure as Pakistan's first and only female prime minister, and several more charges are pending against them.

Bhutto was convicted of money laundering in Switzerland in July 2003 under a Swiss law that empowered high-level investigators to impose penalties without a court hearing. The conviction was automatically thrown out when she contested it, prompting a fresh round of questioning.

Billington said that countries view red notices differently, with action sometimes depending on treaties between member countries and the country where the arrest warrant is issued.

"It informs other countries that an arrest warrant exists," Billington told The Associated Press. "It's up to member countries to decide on what action to take." A statement issued by Interpol did not specify which arrest warrants were mentioned in the notices or say when the notices were issued.

Member countries may challenge the validity of red notices, as may the person who is subject of the notice, Interpol said. Bhutto was democratically elected twice, but both of her governments toppled over misrule and corruption allegations.

While she lives in exile, her Pakistan People's Party remains one of the main opposition parties to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a coup in 1999 over theelected government that followed Bhutto's.

A spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party said it had not been notified about the Interpol notices but would challenge them. "The PPP and Bhutto will not succumb to such pressure tactics of the military dictatorship," spokesman Sen. Farhatullah Babar said. He said Bhutto was in the United States with Zardari on a lecture tour, reports the AP. I.L.