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Bhutto Again Under House Arrest


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.

Today, Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto call on the country's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, to leave office - the first time Bhutto has made such a demand since returning to Pakistan. Bhutto is under house arrest in the city of Lahore after threatening to lead a demonstration to the capital, Islamabad, to protest emergency rule.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Lahore.

(Soundbite of protestors chanting in foreign language)

PHILIP REEVES: The city is different, the scene is the same. On Friday, Bhutto was put under house arrest in Islamabad. Today, it's Lahore. The road leading to the house where she is staying is blockaded by trucks. Hundreds of riot police with batons and shields block the way. Police bundle a handful of women. Bhutto's supporters who've somehow managed to get here into a prison van.

(Soundbite of protestors)

REEVES: It's a like bizarre piece of street theater, enacted by people who've come with the intention of getting arrested and police who are happy to grab them in full view of the world's TV cameras. This time, Bhutto had threatened to lead a mass three-day motorcade from Lahore to the capital Islamabad. She knew such demonstrations were banned under emergency law and that she'd probably be confined again.

This is Bhutto's carefully choreographed way of pressuring General Musharraf and getting the world to take notice. Yet today, there's a difference. Today, Bhutto seems to have significantly shifted her ground and publicly hardened her position. Until now, she's focused on calling for an end to emergency rule, free elections, and for Musharraf to quit as army chief. She wasn't in outright opposition to Musharraf becoming a civilian president, yet this morning, speaking to Britain's Sky TV, she said wanted Musharraf to stand down.

Ms. BENAZIR BHUTTO (Former Prime Minister, Pakistan): It's time for General Musharraf to leave, simply leave. He's (unintelligible) and the situation of the country is most grave. It's a nuclear-armed country.

REEVES: Bhutto said she had tried to reach accord with the general about what she called a roadmap for democracy, but he had broken the commitments he made to her.

Her new position raises many questions: Is Bhutto, who leads the largest party, now willing to join Pakistan's other opposition parties in a unified stance against Musharraf? Is she now out of step with the U.S., which supports the general, but wants him to get out of uniform and to end the emergency rule?

Yusuf Raza Gillani is one of Bhutto's senior party officials. He's at the scene in Lahore today.

Do you now see Madame Bhutto as being in outright opposition to General Musharraf?

Mr. YUSUF RAZA GILLANI (Vice Chairman, Pakistan People's Party): Certainly, yes. Certainly, there's no ambiguity about it.

REEVES: Does that mean then that negotiations in the future are also impossible? It's off? It'off…

Mr. GILLANI: No, it's off. It's off because after emergency and after the what they have done to media and the judiciary, there is no need for a (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of protestors)

REEVES: Shortly afterwards, another group of party supporters is shoved into a police van.

Mr. RATTIM HASSAN(ph): We've come here to show solidarity to the prime minister, to the coming prime minister of Pakistan, Ms. Benazir Bhutto. She's destined to be the prime minister. My name is Rattim Hassan.

REEVES: Java Bahktar(ph) is watching these scenes from the sidelines and in disgust. He lives nearby.

Mr. JAVA BAHKTAR: I am a Pakistani. I love my country. I want pay - justice and freedom of choice, and freedom of speech, which the Western government always, always preach. So when it comes to Pakistan, they do not practice it. I'm sorry.

REEVES: Bahktar agrees with Bhutto. He thinks it's time for Musharraf to go. And it's also time, he says, for the U.S. to stop supporting the general.

Mr. BAHKTAR: They should not back Mr. Musharraf. He has lost all the credibility. He has got no moral or ethical role in Pakistan.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Lahore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves