Bhutto Put Under House Arrest

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LAHORE, Pakistan, Nov. 13 -- The Pakistani government early Tuesday placed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto under house arrest for seven days and said her party would be barred from holding a major procession to protest emergency rule.

Bhutto had planned to lead the procession later Tuesday from Lahore to Islamabad, the capital, more than 200 miles to the west by road. But the government said it had intelligence suggesting that a suicide bombing targeting Bhutto had been planned and that her detention, in a party activist's home in Lahore, was for her own safety.

The opposition had vowed Monday to push ahead with plans for the procession, but it was unclear how many demonstrators would turn out, given the government's order and the fact that their leader, Bhutto, would be prevented from participating. Police had erected barricades around the house where she was staying, and snipers were posted on neighborhood rooftops.

About 30 Bhutto supporters who arrived Tuesday outside the home where she was staying were swiftly hustled into police vans while yelling, "Save Pakistan!"

Tariq Azim Khan, a government spokesman, said that even without Bhutto, the procession would not be permitted under the emergency rule that President Pervez Musharraf imposed Nov. 3.

"All rallies, all political gatherings, are outlawed," Khan said. Of Bhutto, he said: "She shouldn't break the law. It's too dangerous."

Security forces were widely deployed in the city, with many streets barricaded and police with AK-47 assault weapons positioned in front of markets, public gardens and other sites.

The opposition leader was the target of a suicide attack in the southern city of Karachi on Oct. 18 during a celebration marking her return from eight years in exile. An estimated 145 people were killed.

During a visit to the tomb of a renowned 19th-century poet in Lahore on Monday, Bhutto said the procession was necessary "to save Pakistan" and worth the risk.

"I know it is dangerous," she told reporters before the government announced that she would be detained. "But I ask myself: What is the alternative, and how can we save our country?

"We appeal to all people, including from other parties and minorities, women and children, to take part in this long march."

Opposition parties threatened Monday to boycott elections planned for Jan. 9 unless emergency rule were lifted. With opposition leaders jailed and independent news media blocked, they said, a free and fair vote was impossible.

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