Musharraf must quit presidency: Bhutto

Updated on Nov 14, 2007 03:03 AM IST

Benazir Bhutto calls for military leader Pervez Musharraf to step down as president, isolating him in the run-up to a general election.

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Reuters | By, Lahore

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto called on Tuesday for military leader Pervez Musharraf to step down as president, isolating him in the run-up to a general election.

Bhutto has long called for Musharraf to step down as army chief and become a civilian president but it was the first time she had called for him to quit as president altogether. She also said she could never serve as prime minister under him.

"It is time for him to go. He must quit as president," Bhutto, who has for months held power-sharing negotiations with Musharraf, said in a telephone interview.

She was speaking from the city of Lahore where she was placed under house arrest hours before a planned protest against emergency rule.

Musharraf set off a storm of criticism when he imposed the emergency, suspended the constitution, sacked most judges, locked up lawyers, rounded up thousands of opposition and rights activists and curbed the media.

"I will not serve as prime minister as long as Musharraf is president," Bhutto said. "Even if I wanted to work with him, I would not have the public support."

"Negotiations between us have broken down over the massive use of police force against women and children. There's no question now of getting this back on track because anyone who is associated with General Musharraf gets contaminated," she said.

"The men whose wives have been mistreated, the women who have seen their spouses thrashed and beaten up in front of their eyes don't want us to have anything to do with General Musharraf."

Bhutto said Musharraf appeared "out of his depth": "There's a huge crisis."

A spokesman for Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, declined to comment.

Two-time prime minister Bhutto planned to lead a motorcade on a 270 km route from Lahore to Islamabad to demand that Musharraf quit as army chief, end emergency rule, reinstate the constitution and free detained activists — including the 7,500 Bhutto said were from her party.

But about 4,000 police moved in overnight around the Lahore house where Bhutto is staying, laying out coils of barbed wire, setting up barricades and blocking streets with trucks laden with sand. Police in riot vests and carrying batons manned barricades set up around a 1-km (half-mile) perimeter.

A detention order was pasted on the gate.

"Her residence is an official jail now," said a senior officer outside the house.

Police detained dozens of men and women chanting "Go Musharraf go" as they tried to pull down a barbed wire barricade. A Bhutto aide, Farzana Raja, was held after she tried to push her way past police to get to the house.

Musharraf has come under growing pressure from Western allies to set Pakistan back on the path to democracy. He has declined to say when the constitution would be restored and said the emergency would ensure a fair vote.

Bhutto, dogged by accusations of corruption during her rule, said her party, Pakistan's biggest, might boycott the polls: "We haven't taken a final decision but that is the inclination.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US President George W. Bush both urged Musharraf on Monday to lift the emergency.

Musharraf has justified the emergency by saying a meddling judiciary was hampering the battle against militants.

Diplomats say his main objective was to stop the Supreme Court from ruling invalid his Oct. 6 re-election by legislative assemblies dominated by his supporters.

Musharraf has said he would step down as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian president as soon as the Supreme Court, where new judges seen as friendly to the government have been appointed, ruled on challenges to his election.

In Washington, the US State Department announced that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will travel to Pakistan late this week to urge President Musharraf to end his emergency rule and hold free and fair elections. Spokesman Tom Casey said Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte would travel to Pakistan around the end of the week.

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