Zardari lands in ?protective custody?

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By IMTIAZ GUL in Islamabad
  • Published 16.04.05

Islamabad, April 16: The police today detained Asif Ali Zardari after he arrived in Lahore early this morning from Dubai.

A Pakistan Peoples? Party (PPP) spokesman said in Islamabad that Zardari was placed under house arrest immediately after his arrival. However, Pakistan?s interior minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao claimed Zardari is free and there are no restriction on his movements.

Sherpao said in Peshawar that the government was only trying to protect Zardari. He added that a planned PPP rally was disallowed due to imposition of Section 144, which prohibits assembly of more than four people at one place.

However, Zardari threatened to move a higher court against his detention at the airport.

Police in Lahore boarded an Aero Asia plane that brought Asif Ali Zardari back to Pakistan from a visit to his wife in Dubai and placed him under temporary ?protective custody? at Bilawal House. Later this evening, Zardari was released from custody. Police withdrew enabling Zardari to meet partymen and the media.

The police had erected barricades around the residence in a posh Lahore neighbourhood and Zardari said he was not allowed to leave the house, which was guarded by hundreds of officers. The police guard and the barricades were later withdrawn.

Zardari, who was released on bail from eight years? jail late last year, was returning to Pakistan for the first time since travelling to visit his wife in Dubai in December.

The police detained PPP leaders Jehangir Badar, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Naheed Khan, Manzoor Wasan, Qasim Zia, Qaim Ali Shah this morning. Security officials also attacked media persons accompanying Zardari.

According to the Punjab chief minister, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, nobody was detained at the airport and Zardari had ?himself asked for security?. Elahi accused the PPP of creating media hype over Zardari?s detention.

Zardari said about 70,000 PPP supporters had been detained to prevent them welcoming him. He said he would not be deterred from staging rallies. ?If I can?t do it today, I will do tomorrow,? he said.

Besides banning political rallies in Lahore, Elahi yesterday beefed up security in the city saying Zardari wanted to create ?disturbance? under the pretext of holding rallies. The government yesterday issued a red alert on all airports.