KARACHI, Pakistan—Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was put under house arrest today a few hours before she was to address a public protest against the imposition of emergency rule by the country's military leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
As Bhutto, along with senior leaders of her Pakistan People's Party, came out of her Islamabad residence after Friday prayers to head to the demonstration in nearby Rawalpindi, the military headquarters city, heavy contingents of police and paramilitary troops cordoned off her small convoy and blocked her from leaving. "She has been placed under house arrest," said Minister for Information Tariq Azim. The government said later that it will lift her house arrest by Saturday.
Musharraf appears to be trying to keep a lid on protests by followers of Bhutto, who is considered the country's most popular politician, without causing an irreparable rift with her. The two had discussed establishing a power-sharing arrangement if Musharraf gives up his Army chief position to serve as president and parliamentary elections are allowed to proceed early next year. That was before Musharraf imposed military rule, sacked judges, and postponed elections. One danger now is that each is being pushed by events into a more confrontational position—Bhutto to challenge the imposition of emergency rule and Musharraf to maintain control in the face of massive public anger over his actions.
Police sealed off Bhutto's house in Islamabad with barbed wire. "We tried to convince her to cancel the rally but she did not agree. Therefore, we had no other option but to implement the law," said Azim.
The government deployed 6,000 police personnel to stop the protest in Rawalpindi, completely cordoning off the planned venue in the garrison city with barbed wire and concrete blocks. "This is an unlawful and undemocratic act," Bhutto told reporters outside her residence when she came out to try to proceed to the venue. "I am not violating any law. This is our fundamental and democratic right to speak out and protest against wrongdoings of the government.".
Meanwhile, police hurled tear gas and wielded batons to disperse protesters in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and other parts of Pakistan. Angry mobs burned old tires and furniture on the roads and pelted the police with stones after hearing news of Bhutto's house arrest.
Bhutto's party said that more than 5,000 political workers, human rights and civil society activists, and lawyers have been taken into custody in the past week. Government security officials said 1,100 had been detained.
— Aamir Latif