US Worry Rises Over Pakistan Crackdown
Saturday, November 10, 2007; 1:14 AM
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan quickly ended house arrest for opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on Friday and she left her home hours later as President Gen. Pervez Musharraf came under new U.S. pressure to end a crackdown that Washington fears is hurting the fight against Islamic extremism.
Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum told The Associated Press that the country's "state of emergency will end within one month." He provided no further details and would not say when a formal announcement might come.
A week ago, Musharraf declared the state of emergency and suspended the constitution, citing gains by extremists in Pakistan's frontier region and saying political unrest was undermining the fight against militants.
On Friday, police threw up barbed wire around Bhutto's house to keep her from speaking at a rally to protest Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule, and security forces rounded up thousands of her supporters to block any mass demonstrations.
The action was a new blow to hopes the two U.S.-friendly leaders could form an alliance against militants _ a rising threat underlined by a suicide bombing in northwest Pakistan that targeted the home of a Cabinet minister, who escaped without injury.
Bhutto twice tried to evade authorities in her car, telling police who surrounded her villa: "Do not raise hands on women. You are Muslims. This is un-Islamic." Officers blocked the former prime minister's way with an armored vehicle.
But on Saturday, officials said she could leave her home.
"She is now free to go anywhere," said Naeem Iqbal, the police chief for the upscale sector of the capital, Islamabad, where Bhutto lives.
Later Saturday, Bhutto left her home. Her destination wasn't immediately known, but a spokeswoman earlier said she would meet with foreign diplomats and party colleagues.
In Rawalpindi, the nearby garrison town where she had hoped to stage the rally, police fired tear gas at hundreds of Bhutto loyalists who staged wildcat protests and hurled stones. More than 100 were arrested.
The Bush administration called for the restrictions on Bhutto to be lifted, and Pakistan's government said late Friday that she was again free to move about.
Early Saturday, about 20 police _ far fewer that the day before _ loitered at the end of the street leading to her home, pulling metal barriers aside to let other residents pass.