Riot police deployed to prevent Benazir from leading anti-Musharraf protest

Other News Materials 10 November 2007 23:18 (UTC +04:00)

(Reuters) · 5,000 arrested to stop rally against emergency rule

· Ex-prime minister mulls deal with military dictator

Benazir Bhutto was going nowhere. A phalanx of riot police stood at the end of her leafy street, tapping their shields and manning a barbed wire barricade. Armoured vehicles rolled in.

Officers even prowled the neighbours' gardens, just in case the opposition leader might vault her back wall. "All this, for one unarmed woman," said her spokeswoman Sherry Rehman.

In nearby Rawalpindi, where Bhutto was due to hold a mass rally against President Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule, the clampdown was even greater. A city of 5 million people had virtually shut down. Police roamed the deserted streets on motorbikes, horses and by foot.

A straggle of Bhutto loyalists who ventured outside were chased and, in some cases, thrashed. The party said that 5,000 had already been arrested.

The handful that made it to Bhutto's suburban house in Islamabad, 15 miles away, were bundled away by plain-clothed intelligence officials. All resisted arrest, waving v-signs to the media as they were carted off. A few took it personally.

"Please tell me why I am being arrested. I have done nothing wrong", protested Naheed Hayat, a British-Pakistani supporter, as she was shoved into a car.

But there was no rough treatment for Bhutto's top lieutenants, who sailed past the security and into her tightly-guarded house. The contrast underscored the fact that despite her fiery rhetoric about "military dictatorship", Bhutto refuses to rule out a deal with Musharraf.

Bhutto made two symbolic attempts to break through the police cordon. At one point over 100 journalists dashed down a side-street, thinking she might emerge.

In the late afternoon, however, she made it to the end of the street, where she delivered an impromptu speech.

"This is not a battle for Benazir Bhutto. This is a battle to save Pakistan," she declared through a loudhailer, standing behind a coil of barbed wire and surrounded by 50 party leaders.

She was "very disappointed" with Musharraf, she said, and called for "the restoration of the constitution, for General Musharraf to keep his commitment to retire [as army chief] on November 15, and for the holding of elections on schedule."

But the impromptu speech mostly focused on rising Islamist extremism. Pakistani mountain villages had recently fallen to the Taliban, she warned, and the situation could descend into Iraq-like anarchy.

"We have seen what happens in Iraq. There was a dictatorship, the people revolted, and there was a bloody end ... We don't want the history of Iraq to be repeated here in Pakistan."

The threat was underscored in Peshawar, 160 km ( 100 miles) to the west, where a suicide bomber attacked the home of the minister for political affairs, Amir Muqam. Four people died; the minister escaped unscathed.