Pakistan's Bhutto turns screw on Musharraf

Published: Saturday November 10, 2007

Pakistani ex-premier Benazir Bhutto upped the pressure Saturday on President Pervez Musharraf, joining a protest against his emergency rule and appealing for help from the international community.

Addressing foreign diplomats here, she called for support for the campaign to end the state of emergency imposed by Musharraf a week ago.

"Nuclear-armed Pakistan is threatened by an internal implosion," she said, and the only way forward was through a return to democracy.

"Pakistan under dictatorship is a pressure cooker. Without a place to vent, the passion of our people for liberty threatens to explode."

Bhutto's burst of activity came after the government freed her from house arrest where she had been confined Friday to prevent her leading a protest in nearby Rawalpindi.

Exploiting her freedom of movement, she turned up by surprise at a rally by journalists against media curbs, declaring "the war against dictatorship will continue."

Then, in a high-profile display of support, she was driven to the house of ousted chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and demanded to be let in to see him.

Chaudhry was sacked for refusing to legitimise the order for the state of emergency and has been under effective house arrest ever since.

Attorney general Malik Mohammad Qayyum said emergency rule "is likely to be lifted in a month."

"It is mainly because of the law and order situation in some parts of the country," he told private Geo television. "We hope it will continue to improve as it is improving now."

Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, cited growing Islamic militancy and a meddling judiciary for imposing the emergency, under which he suspended the constitution, sacked Chaudhry and brought in media restrictions.

His move came amid government jitters days ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on the validity of his October 6 presidential election victory.

Using the new curbs, the government ordered three journalists working for Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper to leave Pakistan within 72 hours because of "foul and abusive language" in an editorial.

It followed a leader article in the newspaper commenting on US support for Musharraf, a key Washington ally in the "war on terror" against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

A spokeswoman for the British High Commission said it was looking into the case, adding: "We have been urging the lifting of restrictions on media over the past week and firmly believe a strong, free and dynamic media is best for Pakistan."

Many international news channels such as CNN and BBC World have been taken off air here.

Bhutto reaffirmed her commitment Saturday to lead a protest march starting Tuesday from Lahore to Islamabad.

The march, a distance of about 275 kilometres (170 miles), is designed to press Musharraf to quit as army chief by November 15, end emergency rule and allow legislative elections by an original deadline of mid-January.

The United States also stepped up pressure on Musharraf to set a firm date for the polls, which he has only said will be by mid-February.

US President George W. Bush said Saturday he expected Musharraf to lift the state of emergency and return to constitutional rule "as quickly as possible."

Asked whether he believed Musharraf's pledges to hold elections by February 2008 and quit as army chief if confirmed as president, Bush replied: "I take a person for his word" until they are proven unreliable.

In London, the ex-wife of Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan led hundreds of protesters in a rally outside the office of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Jemima Khan, who was divorced from Imran in 2004, also delivered a petition to the premier's London residence.

"It's completely inconceivable what's happening in Pakistan," she told Sky News television. "It's something that I'm so horrified by that I felt it was necessary to come out today and help to organise this demonstration."

Khan, who founded the Movement for Justice Party, has been in hiding since the start of the week after police tried to arrest him.