Pakistani Crowd Hails Return Of Exiled Opposition Leader

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By James Rupert
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 11, 1986

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 10, 1986 -- Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis roared their condemnation of President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq and their support for Benazir Bhutto today as the opposition leader returned from political exile.

The return of the daughter and political heir of former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto appeared to mark Zia's most serious domestic political challenge. She has vowed to campaign for Zia's resignation and for immediate national elections to replace the man who overthrew her father in 1977 and then saw him executed.

Before her return, Bhutto, 32, had told interviewers in London that she would not launch a "frontal attack" on Zia's government. But, speaking at a massive rally in Lahore's old city tonight, Bhutto said that if Zia refused to step down and schedule new elections, "the people will pursue their own line of action."

The massive welcome -- which many local residents judged the largest gathering in Lahore since Pakistan's formation -- confirmed that Bhutto retains a powerful hold over a substantial segment of the population for which her father remains a political hero.

Inching through the often frantic crowds, her motorcade needed 10 hours to travel the eight miles from the airport to the rally. Bhutto supporters stripped the flowers from public gardens along the route to toss them at Bhutto's truck, at foreign correspondents and each other.

The crowd was sometimes euphoric but more often angry, chanting slogans against Zia and U.S. support for him. "America is the murderer of Ali Bhutto and Pakistan," they chanted.

At one point -- amid a forest of red, green and black flags of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party -- a half dozen U.S. flags waved above the demonstrators before bursting into flame, one by one.

"We knew she would get the largest crowd," said Mohabbat Ali Dogar, a Lahore lawyer and a senior official of Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo's Moslem League party. "She is very popular here in Punjab, and the government is keeping its hands off" the demonstration.

In 1977, Zia overthrew Ali Bhutto in a military coup and immediately declared martial law. Zia lifted the martial law last December as part of a controlled return to civilian rule.

With the encouragement of the Reagan administration, Zia last year held nonpartisan elections to a National Assembly -- elections that Bhutto's party and other opposition groups boycotted as unfair. The elections gathered a respectable turnout, however, and produced a conservative assembly from which Zia appointed Prime Minister Junejo and a civilian Cabinet.

Bhutto's party and the 11 smaller members of the opposition Movement for the Restoration of Democracy have been permitted to resume political activities under civilian rule, but have insisted on new elections, which they say cannot be fair under Zia's authority.

Bhutto landed shortly after dawn at Lahore International Airport, where other flights were canceled, as riot police were deployed and barbed-wire barricades were set up to hold back thousands who had gathered overnight to greet her. Although the authorities had called in thousands of police from surrounding areas, they were kept out of view during the day in an attempt to avoid provoking the often hostile crowds.


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© 1986 The Washington Post Company

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