Pakistan’s main opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been placed under a week’s house arrest just hours before she was due to lead a mass rally from Lahore to the capital, Islamabad. The protest was aimed at pressuring President Pervez Musharraf to ease restrictions brought in under emergency rule.
Bhutto and her supporters say the 270 kilometre march will go ahead as planned, but as hundreds of heavily armed police officers moved into position around the Lahore home of a party official where she was staying, it seemed clear that the procession would not be allowed.
International pressure on General Musharraf is mounting. Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting in London have given him 10 days to repeal the emergency laws, or face suspension from the bloc. A measure backed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown:
“We call on President Musharraf of Pakistan to restore the constitution and implement the necessary conditions to guarantee fair and free elections on schedule in January”, he told the audience at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London’s Guildhall.
Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1999 when a coup brought General Musharraf to power. It was reinstated in 2004 despite no changes having been made, a fact which has led observers to question the extent of the bloc’s influence.