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Benazir house arrest drama

Islamabad, Nov. 9: Pakistani police placed Benazir Bhutto under house arrest today, stopping her twice as she tried to leave for nearby Rawalpindi to address a rally against emergency rule.

The police uncoiled barbed wire in front of her villa, sealed off Islamabad and Rawalpindi and rounded up scores of her supporters.

However, late tonight Bhutto was freed from house arrest. “The detention order has been withdrawn,” said Aamir Ali Ahmed, acting deputy commissioner of Islamabad.

Officials at first said she might be detained for up to 30 days but shortly after the White House demanded she be freed, the government said the confinement would last only a day.

Deputy information minister Tariq Azim said the rally had been stopped only because of reports that suicide bombers might attack it. “She will be free to move tomorrow.”

At 1.40pm, Benazir had tried to leave through the back and was stopped. She later attempted to drive out through the front gate in her bullet-proof white Landcruiser, surrounded by some 50 supporters.

“Get out of the way. We are your sisters... We have no hostility towards you,” she told the police through a megaphone. They responded by blocking her way with two buses and an armoured vehicle.

“…Bhutto and other political party members must be permitted freedom of movement and all protesters released,” the White House said, adding that it remained concerned about the continued state of emergency. Benazir also plans a motorcade from Lahore on November 13 as part of a mass agitation.

Her decision to join the street protests is a blow to President Pervez Musharraf and dims the chances of their forming an alliance against the militants soon.

The former Prime Minister told supporters outside her home today that “we suspended our negotiations” with Musharraf after he imposed emergency.

“If he (Musharraf) restores the Constitution, takes off his uniform, gives up the office of the chief of army staff and announces an election by January 15, then it’s okay,” she shouted across the barricade, vowing defiance if he failed to comply.

She also demanded that Musharraf step down as army chief by next week. She then stepped back into the house.

Musharraf yesterday said the elections would be held by February 15, and that he would shed his uniform once new judges appointed to the supreme court struck down challenges against his re-election as President.

Benazir later told ABC’s Good Morning America over the phone that the world must not believe Musharraf’s pledges.

The police had surrounded Zardari House in the morning and blocked all roads leading to it. Benazir denied official claims that she was served with a detention order.

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