( AFP ) - Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto left Sunday for the eastern city of Lahore to galvanise support behind plans for the biggest protest rally yet against emergency rule.
Police stepped up security at Islamabad airport, baton-charging crowds to make room for her convoy and staffing checkpoints, private Geo television and an AFP photographer travelling with her said.
The leader of the Pakistan People's Party, the country's biggest political group, plans to lead supporters Tuesday from Lahore to the capital Islamabad, some 275 kilometres (170 miles) away.
She has set President Pervez Musharraf a deadline of Thursday to take off his army uniform, restore the constitution and set the date for parliamentary elections.
Bhutto was expected after arriving in Lahore to meet party officials and other opposition leaders to plot details of the protest.
It is the latest phase of Bhutto's high-stakes tussle with Musharraf that will help determine the future of the nuclear-armed nation.
He imposed emergency rule a week ago citing growing Islamic militancy and a meddling judiciary, suspending the constitution and sacking the nation's chief justice.
The military ruler, who seized power in a coup in 1999, has said elections will be held by February 15 and that he will stand down as army chief as soon as the Supreme Court validates his October 6 presidential victory.
But Bhutto has dismissed those promises as too vague and has called on her party to mobilise, threatening a direct confrontation with Musharraf.
Thursday is also the day Musharraf's current tenure as president officially ends.
Under an original elections timetable, parliament is supposed to resign on the same day, paving the way for fresh legislative polls on January 15.
One uncertain element, however, is whether Bhutto will be allowed to press ahead with her march. Last Friday she was placed under house arrest for a day to prevent her leading a protest in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.
The government cited fears of a repeat of the suicide bombings that killed 139 people at Bhutto's homecoming parade in Karachi on October 18.