updated 10/31/2007 8:14:49 PM ET 2007-11-01T00:14:49

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto abruptly canceled plans to travel abroad Wednesday, saying she had heard rumors the government could impose a state of emergency during her absence.

The opposition leader, who was targeted by suicide bombers when she returned home on Oct. 18 following eight years in exile, had been preparing to go to Dubai to see her husband and three children.

She said at a hastily arranged news conference that senior party aides told her President Gen. Pervez Musharraf might impose emergency measures if the Supreme Court found that his recent election win was unconstitutional. A ruling is expected later this week.

The government denied any such plans.

“I wanted to go to Dubai,” Bhutto said. “But when these rumors surfaced, I decided to change my program,” she added.

“If a state of emergency is imposed, we will not accept it,” she said, speaking on behalf of her Pakistan People’s Party. “If fundamental human rights are suspended, we will not accept it. The nation will not accept it, and I know other political parties will also not accept it.”

The verdict, which is expected by the end of the week, will be critical for how events unfold in Pakistan.

The declaration of a state of emergency would set back a planned transition to civilian rule and prospects of Bhutto and Musharraf forming an alliance against Islamic extremism.

Suicide blast disrupts homecoming
Bhutto, a two-time premier, returned to Pakistan after Musharraf signed an amnesty to drop corruption cases against her and other politicians and bureaucrats — amid expectations she and Musharraf could form a pro-Western alliance to counter extremism.

But a suicide blast shattered her homecoming parade in Karachi, killing more than 140 people and raising fears for Pakistan’s stability ahead of crucial parliamentary elections.

The government has vowed to expose those responsible for the attack, which was widely blamed on Islamic extremists fighting security forces near the Afghan border.

But Pakistan’s top judge expressed impatience Wednesday with the investigation currently under way and said he would open his own probe, wading into the country’s deepening political turmoil.

The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, will review the bombing to ensure the “perpetrators of this barbaric act are brought to book, which will result in restoring the confidence of the nation in the system of governance,” a court statement said.

It scheduled a hearing in the case for Thursday.

The activist chief justice has emerged as a key player in Pakistan’s power struggle since Musharraf made a botched attempt to fire him in March.

After his reinstatement in July amid a clamor for an end to military rule, the court has taken up a string of high-profile issues, including whether its U.S.-allied military president can remain in power.

Court: Election win not final until ruling
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and made Pakistan a key ally of the United States in its war against terrorism, won a landslide victory in an Oct. 6 presidential election.

However, the court has said that the result is not final until it rules on complaints from opposition lawmakers that Musharraf was ineligible to contest the vote because he has retained his position as army chief.

Musharraf has pledged to quit the army before starting a new presidential term.

But he declined on election night to say whether he would accept a negative verdict from the court. The court plans to rule on the case by Friday.

Bhutto’s party has called for foreign experts to assist the investigation — a demand rejected by the government, which insists it can solve the case on its own.

The Supreme Court is also considering whether Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted eight years ago, should be allowed to return from exile to make a political comeback.

In Swat, a mountain valley in the northwest, security forces battled with militants Wednesday, leaving up to 18 fighters dead, said Badshah Gul Wazir, home secretary and the top civilian security official of the North West Frontier Province.

Militants and government forces have clashed repeatedly in the region over the past week in violence that has left over 100 people dead.

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