( AFP ) - Pakistan's government freed former premier Benazir Bhutto from house arrest as the United States urged President Pervez Musharraf to end emergency rule and set firm dates for elections.
The order assigning Bhutto to house arrest was lifted overnight -- although police still guarded the ends of her street with concrete barriers and barbed wire -- after a day that saw clashes on the streets and a suicide bombing.
She had been blocked from leading a rally in nearby Rawalpindi against the state of emergency imposed by Musharraf a week ago, with the government citing fears that bombers were targeting the protest.
"It has been withdrawn," interior secretary Kamal Shah told AFP, referring to the house arrest order.
"The order was given in view of a specific security situation and now that situation has passed," Shah said.
Bhutto's October 18 homecoming parade in Karachi after eight years in exile was hit by a double suicide bombing that killed 139 people.
The United States, which sees Musharraf's Pakistan as a cornerstone of its "war on terror," notably against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, called on him to set specific dates for elections and to stand down as army chief.
Amid intense international criticism, he has pledged legislative elections -- originally slated for January -- by February 15 and to hang up his uniform as soon as the Supreme Court validates his October 6 presidential victory.
Bhutto has already dismissed the pledges as vague, and US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack appeared to echo that view.
"He should make that commitment publicly and fix a date for the Pakistani people so that they have an expectation that they are now going to return to constitutional rule and the pathway to democracy," McCormack said.
Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, cited growing Islamic militancy and a meddling judiciary for declaring a state of emergency. He suspended the constitution, sacked the nation's chief justice and imposed media curbs.
"We are going to hold him to his commitments, but more importantly, I think the people of Pakistan will hold him to his commitments to have elections and take off the uniform," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Still, Johndroe again strongly suggested that there would be no cuts in aid to Pakistan -- much of it to the military -- despite the crackdown.
In Islamabad, Bhutto attempted Friday to drive out of her compound only to have her way blocked by armoured personnel carriers.
Through a megaphone from behind coils of barbed wire, she urged police to let her through. "I am your sister fighting for democracy," she told them.
"I don't want Pakistan to become Iraq. I have to save you, I am not afraid of death because it is in the hands of God."
Speaking with AFP by telephone shortly beforehand as she sat in her stationary bullet-proof car, she said: "I am not afraid of these tactics. My struggle is for the people of Pakistan, for their rights and for an end to dictatorship."
Her Pakistan People's Party said 5,000 of its activists had been arrested since last weekend.
So far the party has largely stayed off the streets, but during Friday they clashed with police who fired back with tear gas in Rawalpindi, Peshawar and the northwestern town of Swabi.
Bhutto has promised to march from Lahore to Islamabad from next Tuesday to press Musharraf to set a date for polls and shed his army uniform by November 15.
Heightening tensions further, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the house of a government minister in Peshawar, killing four people, in the first attack on a civilian target since emergency rule began.
"The bomber wanted to kill me, he came into my residence and clearly I was the target," said Amir Muqam, federal minister for political affairs and local head of Musharraf's ruling party.