South Asia News
Pakistan's Bhutto kept under house arrest (2nd Roundup)
Nov 9, 2007, 14:51 GMT
Benazir Bhutto the former Prime Minister and chairperson of opposition Pakistan People Party (PPP) talks with supporters, prior to the government\'s decision to put her under house arrest in Islamabad Pakistan, 09 November 2007. Pakistani government today put Benazir Bhutto under house arrest hours before she was due to lead a rally against a state of emergency. EPA/T. MUGHAL
Islamabad - Pakistani liberal opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest Friday as she prepared to lead a major rally against emergency rule imposed by the country's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf.
Bhutto, flanked by the top leadership of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was prevented by police from leaving Islamabad, supposedly to safeguard her against possible attempts on her life during a planned protest in the capital's twin city Rawalpindi.
'There is no political process, this is a farce,' Bhutto said, adding that she had broken off talks with the military leader towards the peaceful transition to civilian rule.
Eventually she was able to drive up to a barbed-wire barricade but could not proceed further when police parked buses and an armoured jeep across the mouth of the street.
Talking to a small crowd of party loyalists and journalists, Bhutto said she had worked out a roadmap with Musharraf for a peaceful transition to democracy, but was disappointed that he had taken a 'non-political path.'
She reiterated calls for the restoration of the constitution, Musharraf's resignation as the commander of the armed forces, and for holding of parliamentary elections by mid-January as scheduled.
Bhutto dismissed as 'vague and generalized' Musharraf's earlier pledge to hold the polls by the middle of February. If all the demands are not fulfilled, she threatened that 'we will come out and fight.'
But Information Minister Mohammed Durrani called her claimed severance of all ties with the president an 'emotional statement.' The government would 'remain cool and continue talks with all opposition parties including the PPP,' he told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa.
Bhutto and Musharraf have for months been negotiating a power- sharing deal that would bring him PPP support and the opposition leader back into government, although neither camp has publicly acknowledged this goal.
Officials claimed they cordoned off Bhutto's residence for her own safety because there were intelligence reports that several suspected suicide bombers had entered the capital and other cities.
Three people and a bomber died in a suicide attack on Pakistan's Minister for Political Affairs Amir Muqam in the north-western city of Peshawar.
In a separate attack, two soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in the Swat region north-west of the capital, where militants have captured large swathes of territory in recent weeks.
Bhutto denied having been formally detained and called the entire action against her illegal, but authorities were adamant.
'She was served a house arrest warrant for three days and after that she will be at liberty to leave,' a senior government official said on condition of anonymity.
Musharraf, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999, last Saturday declared a state of emergency, suspending the constitution and fundamental rights, and imposed media curbs.
The military leader said escalating insurgent violence and hostile judicial activism necessitated the step, although his critics say it was to retain his hold on power without having to step down as army chief.
Twice-deposed on corruption charges, Bhutto staged a comeback on October 18 after eight years of self-exile. Her homecoming rally in the southern city of Karachi was marred by the suicide bombing of her convoy that killed more than 140 people.
Meanwhile, more than 100 people, including some parliamentarians, were arrested near Bhutto's home on Friday. Her party claimed that more than 5,000 of its activists had been taken into custody since Saturday, but the government said only 1,000 were detained under maintenance of public order charges.
In Rawalpindi, PPP stalwarts were involved minor clashes with riot police who blocked roads leading to the site of the planned demonstration. Tear gas canisters were fired at the agitators, who hurled stones at law enforcers. However, there were no reports of injuries.
Musharraf, who had previously pledged to relinquish his military status before being sworn in for a further term, said this week that resistance to his government would not be tolerated.
'All means will be used to control the protests,' he said.
The international community has called upon his government to restore the constitution, hold elections as soon as possible and release all political prisoners.
The German government on Friday urged Musharraf to free Bhutto and other activists arrested throughout the country in recent days.
According to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany would re-examine its arms exports to Pakistan and would also restrict economic assistance to projects which solely benefit the population.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur