Pakistan's Supreme Court on Monday dismissed major legal challenges to President Pervez Musharraf's re-election even as the general reportedly made plans to visit Saudi Arabia for talks with its ruler on the possible return of former premier Nawaz Sharif.
As the US stepped up efforts to bring about a reconciliation between the military ruler and former premier Benazir Bhutto, she ruled out fresh power-sharing negotiations with him.
The apex court threw out all but one of the six petitions challenging Musharraf's re-election in uniform and said it would decide on the remaining "minor" petition by a civil servant on Thursday.
The court ruling brought Musharraf one step closer to continuing his rule, but as a civilian president this time.
The court can authorise the election commission to announce the president as the winner of the vote only after the Thursday ruling.
A 10-judge full court headed by new Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, all of whom were sworn in under the Provisional Constitutional Order issued by Musharraf, is currently hearing the matter.
Musharraf will hold talks with King Abdullah bin Abd-al-Aziz Abdullah in Riyadh and Sharif's return to Pakistan might figure in their talks.
However, no direct meeting between Musharraf and Sharif is planned as of now, Dawn News channel quoted official sources as saying.
In a significant development, US envoy to Pakistan Anne Patterson met Bhutto in Karachi, a day after Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte prodded Musharraf to restart dialogue with the Pakistan People's Party leader, and assured her that America would do "everything possible" to ensure free and fair elections in Pakistan.