ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CBS/AP) A Pakistani official says opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been freed from house arrest, but barriers and police remain outside her Islamabad villa.
Bhutto was placed under house arrest today, with police uncoiling barbed wire in front of her Islamabad villa. She twice tried to leave in her car, telling police not to "raise hands on women." They responded by blocking her way with an armored vehicle.
The former prime minister had planned to defy a ban on political gatherings and address a rally, where police used tear gas and batons to chase off hundreds of supporters. Police reportedly rounded up 5,000 of her supporters to block a mass protest against emergency rule.
The United States urged Pakistan to end her house arrest, as Pentagon leaders voiced concern that the political turmoil will undercut the Pakistani army's fight against insurgents along the Afghanistan border.
Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said there was a restraining order against Bhutto, telling her to stay at her Islamabad home and not proceed to Rawalpindi because of the security threat. The city mayor said they had reports suicide bombers might attack the rally.
Azim told the Associated Press that she would be free to move tomorrow.
CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reports Bhutto's home was surrounded by armed security forces, armored vehicles and barbed wire in the early morning hours.
Meanwhile, a bomb explosion at the home of a government minister in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed at least four people, police said.
The attack happened at the residence of the minister for political affairs, Amir Muqam, and also wounded three people, said Aslam Khan, a local police official.
Muqam said he saw two or three dead in the blast - members of his security staff. Police said the bombing was a suicide attack.
Kamal Shah, a top Interior Ministry official, said a district magistrate had served a "detention order" on Bhutto so she could not leave her home. Rehman, however, said no arrest papers had been served on Bhutto.
The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that officials did try to serve arrest papers to Bhutto, but she refused to take them and went back inside. According to the BBC report, the detention order is valid for 30 days.
Speaking by phone from the scene, Bhutto said that no arrest papers had been served on her.
"If I'm arrested the People's Party of Pakistan workers will continue to fight for democracy and the rule of law," she told reporters who heard the call via speakerphone.
U.S. Says Musharraf's Actions Won't Immediately Jeopardize Aid
Despite the calls for a return to democratic order in Pakistan, the Bush administration has concluded it is not legally required to cut or suspend the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid currently going to Pakistan, despite President Musharraf's imposition of a state of emergency and a crackdown on the opposition and independent media.
U.S. assistance to its key anti-terrorism (and nuclear armed) ally, which has totaled nearly $10 billion since 2001, is governed by numerous legislative requirements that could trigger automatic aid cutoffs, but all are covered by locked-in presidential waivers, according to officials.
Those waivers exempt Pakistan from aid restrictions, and do not need to be renewed until Congress approves the pending budget for the current fiscal year. That budget requests $845 million for Pakistan.
"No one at this point believes there is anything automatic that has to kick in," said one senior official. "The waivers are valid until Congress gets around to passing the fiscal '08 budget."
The initial findings do not mean that aid to Pakistan will never be cut, only that there is currently no statutory reason to do so.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates voiced concern that the political turmoil there will undermine the Pakistani army's fight against terrorism.
"The concern I have is that the longer the internal problems continue, the more distracted the Pakistani army and security services will be in terms of the internal situation rather than focusing on the terrorist threat in the frontier area," he told reporters earlier Friday on his plane en route home from a weeklong visit to Asia.
To date, the Pentagon has said the unrest has had no effect on U.S. military operations. But Gates' comments underscored the administration's nervousness, even as it voices support for Musharraf as an ally in the war on terror.
Police Clash With Opposition Protestors
Authorities were adamant the rally Bhutto planned in nearby Rawalpindi would not go ahead - under the government's emergency powers declared a week ago, mass gatherings are banned. Mayor Javed Akhlas also said there was a "credible report" of six or seven suicide bombers in the city.
News video showed police clashing with Bhutto supporters in Rawalpindi and in Peshawar, and there were reportedly dozens of new arrests made.
Bhutto supporters pulled at a barbed wire barricade on the street to make way for her vehicle, but were blocked by police, the official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media. Bhutto's vehicle only managed to travel about 40 yards before it was stopped.
"We are trying to pass through because we want to reach Rawalpindi. There was a baton charge. There was a barbed wire. People in Kashmir were also stopped from reaching here. Those who can reach Rawalpindi, they should try to reach there," Bhutto later told private Geo TV.
"The government says that some suicide bombers have entered Islamabad. If they have any such information, then why can't they arrest them?" she said.
Rawalpindi, hit by a series of suicide attacks targeting the military, had hundreds of riot police on the streets Friday, moving through the city while other security personnel patrolled on motorcycles, horseback and in armored vehicles.
"Since the government has not given permission for it due to security reasons, we will not allow any one to gather here for the rally," the city's police chief, Saud Aziz, told The Associated Press.
Aziz also said police were on the lookout to deter against the "serious" threat of potential suicide bombers.
Streets normally jammed with people stood empty, shops were closed and the road leading from Islamabad to Rawalpindi had been blocked by two tractor trailers and a metal gate.
Pakistan's military leader showed no signs of letting up on his political foes despite his announcement Thursday - following pressure from the U.S. and other Western allies - that elections would go ahead by mid-February, just a month later than originally planned.
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, claimed Friday that authorities had arrested 5,000 of its supporters in the last three days across the eastern province of Punjab, where Rawalpindi is located.
"It is a massive crackdown on our party," said Raja Javed Ashraf, a PPP lawmaker.
The government offered no immediate public comment. But the security official said only 1,000 Bhutto supporters had been detained.
Information Minister Tariq Azim said "we will not allow any leader to carry out any rally".
Musharraf has been under pressure to quickly hold elections and step down as the country's army chief since he suspended the constitution and took other emergency measures, saying they were needed to put an end to political instability and to fight Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants.
Thousands of lawyers and opposition parties activists have been rounded up countrywide, and police using batons and tear gas have squashed attempts by lawyers to protest on the streets.
Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan, in hiding Friday, told AP Television that "there will be a big student demonstration, unprecedented since 1968.
"Once that happens, then I don't mind going into jail."
The cricket star-turned politician is among the key Musharraf critics, many of whom have been imprisoned or put under house arrest.
Kahn called the judges "the heroes of Pakistan."
"In their hands lies the future of this country. They must succeed, they must be told that we are all standing behind them," Khan added.
Posted by LS