House arrest again for Bhutto

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LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistani authorities placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest for the second time in four days to prevent her staging a grand procession on Tuesday to protest emergency rule, police said.

A seven-day detention order was issued by the government of Punjab province, where the former prime minister is staying at the house of a lawmaker from her party, Aftab Cheema, the chief of operations of Lahore city police, told The Associated Press.

“She has been detained and she won’t be allowed to come out,” Cheema said.

Hundreds of armed police were deployed Monday in the streets around the home where Bhutto is staying, and sharpshooters took to surrounding rooftops. A series of three steel-and-barbed wire barricades were erected around her house.

A conflict over the march between Bhutto and Musharraf could intensify the political crisis engulfing Pakistan and further cloud the prospect of the two leaders forming a U.S.-backed alliance against rising Islamic extremism.

Bhutto had planned to leave Lahore on Tuesday morning for the capital, Islamabad. The journey was expected to take about three days, and her party said thousands of supporters were expected to join her en route.

The caravan is meant to pressure President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to end the state of emergency he imposed on Nov. 3 and give up his post as army chief.

“All processions, rallies, political gatherings at present are outlawed,” Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim told the AP before the detention order was issued. “So if she breaks the law then obviously she will not be allowed to do it.”

Azim declined to give details about what steps authorities might take against Bhutto. He said that officials would “take the necessary action as it happens.”

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, said before Bhutto’s was ordered detained that Tuesday’s march would go ahead “regardless of what the government is saying.”

Party spokeswoman Farzana Raja vowed its supporters would fight any attempt by authorities to block her “freedom march.”

“If police try to stop us, in every town and district of Punjab, there will be a battlefield between PPP activists and police,” she said.

With an escort of dozens of police vehicles, Bhutto had ventured out around Lahore Monday to offer prayers at the grave of Pakistan’s national poet, Allama Iqbal, and declared to reporters that her caravan was part of her campaign “to save Pakistan.”

“I know it is dangerous but what alternative is there when the country is in danger?” the former prime minister said.

Bhutto was targeted by an Oct. 18 suicide bombing attack on a homecoming procession in the southern city of Karachi as she returned from years in exile. The assassination attempt killed 145 other people.

She was placed under house arrest in Islamabad Friday to prevent her from addressing a rally in the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi, where authorities also warned they had intelligence that suicide bombers were loose in the area.