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Benazir too takes on the general

Accused of complicity with Musharraf, Pakistan People's Party chairperson makes her position clear, reports Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Nov 07, 2007 23:07 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

Distancing herself from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto announced on Wednesday that she was prepared to engage in a political battle with the General.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) chairperson told newsmen that her party will hold a mass rally in Rawalpindi despite an official ban imposed by the military government.

Soon after the announcement, about 200 of her supporters were teargassed as they tried to approach the Parliament building in the heart of the capital city.

"I appeal to the people of Pakistan to come forward. We are under attack," she told journalists. The authorities have warned that police will not allow the demonstration in Rawalpindi on Friday to go ahead.

While Bhutto had condemned the imposition of emergency-like conditions by President General Musharraf last week, she had stopped short of announcing what her next step would be.

Insiders in Islamabad believe that after failing to convince the government and coming to some sort of political agreement, Bhutto has decided to take the military government head on.

After arriving in Pakistan, Bhutto had criticised the imposition of emergency, but not announced any plans to oppose the government. This raised speculation that she was striking a possible deal with General Musharraf.

"We have decided to launch a protest campaign against the imposition of emergency starting from the public rally in Rawalpindi on November 9 as the PPP does not accept the emergency which is, in fact, martial law," she said while addressing a press conference at Zardari House.

Bhutto was accorded a rousing welcome by her party workers when she reached Islamabad. A large number of PPP workers were present at the Islamabad airport to welcome their leader. Police had made unprecedented security arrangements on this occasion.

Bhutto admitted to contacts with the regime for the restoration of democracy but said she felt "let down" by Musharraf when he imposed emergency. She said the people of Pakistan were against the imposition of emergency and wanted free and fair elections. Bhutto asked Gen Musharraf to lift the emergency, restore the Constitution and announce free and fair elections.

"Now we want General Musharraf to restore the Constitution immediately, doff his uniform on November 15 and hold elections according to the schedule, and for this purpose the PPP is going to hold talks with the leadership of other parties to formulate a joint strategy," she added.

Bhutto said the PPP was even ready to take the MMA and other smaller parties along, provided they denounced the emergency. She appreciated the international community for expressing concern over the imposition of emergency. "This is for the first time that the international community has supported the people's point of view instead of the establishment," she added.

When asked about reports that the PPP was consulted before the emergency was imposed, she denied it and said that baseless allegations were being leveled against the party. "When I was returning to the country after eight years in exile, reports were spread that I was coming after striking a deal. Now baseless allegations are being levelled," she added.

She said General Musharraf had telephoned her after the Karachi blasts. "Since then, there has been no contact on any issue with the government," she added.