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Imran escape buzz, hint of poll delay

Islamabad/Lahore, Nov. 4: Police wielding assault rifles rounded up hundreds of Opposition leaders, lawyers and rights activists in Pakistan today but Imran Khan was said to have escaped from his home hours after being put under house arrest.

“He (Imran) was detained along with eight supporters. The supporters are at home but he has slipped away. Police are still outside the (Lahore) house,” Reuters quoted an unnamed “close relative” of the former cricketer as saying.

Police sources told The Telegraph that Imran, now an Opposition politician, tried to slip out when personnel surrounded his house early today but was foiled and put under house arrest.

Imran had earlier urged Pakistanis to take to the streets against President Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of emergency last evening.

“Yes, I’m under house arrest,” Imran had told the media, sounding distressed, before his phone was cut off. His assistant, Saifullah Niazi, said he had feared Imran might be taken away to Multan.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said 400-500 people had been detained as a preventive measure and that the emergency would stay “as long as it is necessary”.

He said no decision had been taken on when to hold the national elections, due in January, but added they could be put off for “one year”.

“When you have an emergency, the parliament could give itself more time, up to a year, in terms of holding the next elections,” Aziz said.

Among those detained were Javed Hashmi, acting chief of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former ISI chief who has condemned Musharraf’s support for the US-led war on terror.

Some 200 armed police stormed the rights commission office in Lahore and arrested about 50 activists, commission official Mehbood Khan said. “They dragged us out, including the women.”

Karachi police chief Azhar Farooqi spelt out the government’s stand: “Our soft policy is over. We have zero tolerance. We’ll take action, arrest and use force if necessary.”

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of an alliance of Islamist Opposition parties, urged the people to hit the streets to “throw out the military dictator”, but there were few signs of people being mobilised for public protests.

The phone lines cut last evening seemed to have been restored this morning, but private TV news channels stayed off the air.

New Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar today cancelled all cases being heard by the apex court, including the legal challenge to Musharraf’s re-election in uniform.

Phone trigger

The Nation newspaper said a tapped phone call to a friend by Justice Chaudhry had led to the emergency.

The judge told the friend the Supreme Court would hand a verdict against Musharraf in the re-election case, the newspaper said quoting a government source. Chaudhry apparently said eight of the 11 judges were against Musharraf.

The newspaper claimed Dogar was appointed on Benazir’s recommendation.

Taliban soldier swap

Taliban militants freed 211 Pakistani soldiers today after holding them captive since late August in a tribal region near the Afghan border.

Fighters led by Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud had demanded the release of some captured comrades and the withdrawal of troops in exchange for the soldiers’ freedom.

Sources said South Waziristan authorities had released some people detained under tribal laws, but paramilitary troops were still deployed in the area. Intelligence officials in the area said 25 people had been released in exchange for the troops.

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