Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto pleaded not guilty in court Saturday to a charge of abuse of power.

She called the charge of acting illegally in a hotel project in the capital Islamabad as "baseless and malicious" and said authorities were seeking to oust her from politics.The charge is one of seven brought against Bhutto after President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed her 20-month-old government in August and ordered fresh elections.

The government has accused Bhutto of having tried to allot 287 acres in Islamabad to a British-based company at a cheap rate to build a five-star hotel in violation of city planning.

It was the first time she had been formally charged in any of the cases being tried by one-judge special tribunals. If convicted she could be jailed and barred from politics for up to seven years.

Bhutto became opposition leader after the crushing defeat of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in elections last month which were won by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA).

The PPP blames its defeat on alleged vote-rigging by an IDA-led caretaker government, which denies the charge.

The hotel case is central to efforts of the authorities seeking to prove that Bhutto and her former ministers abused their powers during 20 months in office.

Bhutto said she had no personal motive in the $7 million project but liked the idea because of lack of luxurious hotel accommodation in the capital.

She said she set up a committee to examine the project after receiving opposition criticism but her government was dismissed before any report was submitted.