The political crisis in Pakistan deepened Friday. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto tried to lead a big protest against emergency rule declared last Saturday by President Pervez Musharraf. Instead, the former prime minister spent the day under house arrest.
|Benazir Bhutto, top center, and her supporters try to push through a police barrier|
She tried to leave her home in Islamabad to attend the demonstration that she organized in nearby Rawalpindi. But she could not get past barriers and hundreds of police around her home.
Late in the day, however, Benazir Bhutto was freed. The government said the detention order had been withdrawn. In Rawalpindi, police clashed with several hundred protesters who violated a ban on demonstrations.
Benazir Bhutto says she still plans to lead a protest march early next week from Lahore to Islamabad. She returned to Pakistan last month after eight years of exile to avoid corruption charges. Before she returned, she had been negotiating with President Musharraf on a possible political alliance.
Last weekend, the president dismissed the Supreme Court. He has placed the chief justice and other judges under house arrest. He also suspended the constitution and shut down privately owned television news stations. And he gave wide powers to officials to crush dissent.
Protests have been suppressed, sometimes violently, by police in recent days. How many people have been detained is unclear. The number is in the thousands, including opposition members, human rights activists and lawyers.
The opposition is demanding that President Musharraf end emergency rule, retire as army chief and hold elections in January. World leaders, including President Bush, have also called on him to do these things.
President Bush considers the leader of the nuclear-armed nation an important ally against terrorism. Since two thousand one the United States has given Pakistan almost ten billion dollars in aid, mostly for its military.
National elections were planned for early January. This week, General Musharraf said elections would now be held by February fifteenth. He also said he will resign as army chief before he is sworn in again as president. He said he will keep that promise once the new Supreme Court confirms his re-election.
Benazir Bhutto said the election announcement was simply an attempt to quiet growing dissent.
General Musharraf seized power in nineteen ninety-nine. Later he was elected to a five-year term. And, last month, lawmakers elected him to another term. Many political observers say he declared emergency rule because he feared that the Supreme Court would cancel his re-election.
The court had been considering whether he was permitted by law to run for president while serving as army chief. General Musharraf says he declared emergency rule because of a growing threat from Islamic militants and activist judges.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. For more news about Pakistan, go to voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.