Karachi, Pakistan Thousands of supporters of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto gathered in Pakistan's biggest city today to welcome her home from eight years of exile to the center stage of the country's volatile politics.
Brushing off fears of an attack by Islamic militants, she vowed Wednesday to restore democracy and to fight religious extremism. But there is public skepticism she can turn the bold rhetoric into reality.
"My return heralds for the people of Pakistan the turn of the wheel from dictatorship to democracy, from exploitation to empowerment, from violence to peace," Bhutto told reporters in Dubai ahead of the flight home. She was expected to arrive in Pakistan around 3 a.m. CDT today.
Bhutto's arrival was expected to draw 100,000 or more people to the streets of this southern port city.
The path for her return was paved by negotiations with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and has promised to give up command of the army if he secures a new term as president. The talks yielded an amnesty covering the corruption cases that led Bhutto to leave Pakistan and could see the archrivals team up in a U.S.-friendly alliance to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Bhutto, 54, whose two elected governments between 1988 and 1996 were toppled amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement, is vying for a third term if her Pakistan People's Party can win parliamentary elections in January.