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Benazir Bhutto Is Permitted to Leave Home

New York Times
November 11, 2007

By DAVID ROHDE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 10 — The Pakistani police allowed the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto to leave her house today, but blocked her from visiting the home of the ousted chief justice, who has been detained.

Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister, visited a group of journalists protesting a government shutdown of independent television stations and attended a reception for foreign diplomats given by her party at the Parliament building.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, met today with military corps commanders, his most important source of power. If the Pakistani leader loses the support of the commanders, he would be severely weakened and could eventually be forced to resign as army chief. No clear signs of opposition by the commanders have emerged so far.

The developments came a day after the police blocked Ms. Bhutto from leaving her home in Islamabad to attend an opposition rally in the nearby city of Rawalpindi. More than 8,000 police officers blocked her supporters from gathering at the site of the planned protest.

Ms. Bhutto's visits today were brief and unannounced, apparently in a bid to prevent the police from stopping her. Blocked from the home of the ousted chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, she spoke to a small group of supporters over a megaphone, demanding his reinstatement. "He is the chief justice," Ms. Bhutto said, according to the Reuters news agency. "He is the real chief justice."

Aides said Ms. Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party, would carry out a protest march planned for Tuesday from the eastern city of Lahore to Islamabad, the capital.

"Our cadres are in mobilization," said Raza Rabbani, a close aide to Ms. Bhutto.

On Nov. 3, General Musharraf declared a nationwide state of emergency, suspended the Constitution and began a crackdown on his political opponents. At least 2,500 lawyers, human rights activists and opposition political party workers have been arrested.

Until Friday, lawyers led protests against emergency rule, and some opposition groups have criticized Ms. Bhutto for not challenging General Musharraf more aggressively. Her party is widely seen as the only force in the country that can bring large numbers of protesters into the streets.

Ms. Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan last month after eight years in self-imposed exile, had been engaged in negotiations with General Musharraf before the emergency declaration over a possible power-sharing arrangement.

American officials have supported the talks in the hopes that the two could form an alliance of Pakistani moderates that would challenge rising militancy in the northeast. Before the state of emergency, nationwide parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held before Jan. 15.

Over the past year, suicide attacks by militants based in remote tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan have soared. The government has lost control of growing amounts of territory as bands of insurgents seize control and declare Islamic law. In some cases, police officers and soldiers have surrendered to militants instead of fighting them.

General Musharraf cited terrorism as the reason for his emergency declaration, but it has been widely seen in Pakistan as an effort by the military ruler to bolster his fading power. He declared the state of emergency days before the Supreme Court was supposed to rule on the legality of his re-election as president, which opposition groups have said was improper.

Under intense pressure from the United States and other countries, General Musharraf and his aides have given contradictory statements about when the state of emergency will end. After President Bush called General Musharraf earlier in the week, the Pakistani leader announced that national elections would be held by Feb. 15, a month later than planned.

General Musharraf's attorney general said today that the state of emergency might be lifted within two months, according to The Associated Press, but a close aide to the general said no final decision had been made on timing. The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said an announcement would be made in "a day or two."

Over the past several days, Ms. Bhutto has tried to define herself as the leading opponent of General Musharraf while not scuttling her chances of reaching a deal with him. In an interview today, a close adviser to Ms. Bhutto confirmed that the back-channel talks continued.

American officials have urged both Ms. Bhutto and General Musharraf to continue negotiations and avoid political violence that could further destabilize Pakistan.

In public, Ms. Bhutto remains defiant, and has carried out what appeared to be carefully choreographed, small-scale protests that pose little threat to the government.

After the police stopped her from visiting the home of the deposed chief justice, she briefly addressed several dozen supporters through a bullhorn, according to reporters at the scene. She called for the reinstatement of the Supreme Court and then quickly drove away.

 

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