Pakistan's Bhutto Under House Arrest, 5,000 Supporters Rounded Up

The Pakistani information minister says she is free from house arrest.

ByABC News
February 19, 2009, 1:19 AM

Nov. 9, 2007 — -- The Pakistani information minister Tariq Azeem Khan said the 'restraining order' on Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto had been lifted. He made the announcement during a an interview broadcast on Sky TV. He also said he hoped the state of emergency would be lifted 'very soon' and reiterated the fact that elections would take place by February 15th

Bhutto was placed under house arrest earlier in teh day, and police rounded up 5,000 of her supporters who were planning to hold a protest rally. Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan who just returned to the country from nearly a decade in exile, called for the rally to protest President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule.

"The government has been paralyzed," Bhutto shouted to supporters across a barbed-wire barricade erected by police, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier President Bush called for Bhutto and her supporters to be freed and again for the end of emergency rule.

It is "crucial for Pakistan's future that moderate political forces worktogether to bring Pakistan back on the path to democracy," the White House said in a statement.

Later after she was unable to leave her house, ABC News reached her by phone"We told the police they should either give us an arrest warrant or allow us to proceed." Bhutto said on "Good Morning America."

"How often can Gen. Musharraf bring the entire public [to a] standstill to stop a singlepublic meeting? I plead with the international community not to be taken in, for him to retire as army chief, for him to hold elections and to restore the constitution."

ABC' Martha Raddatz was outside Bhutto's house when supporters tried to drive Bhutto out of her compound, but said riot police quickly moved in.

Two buses blocked Bhutto's car while she shouted over a megaphone to be released. Bhutto had hoped to go rally with her supporters.

"Do not raise hands on women. You are Muslims. This is un-Islamic," she shouted.

In front of Bhutto's compound throughout the day, supporters would come usually one by one. And one by one they were arrested, Raddatz reported.

The city of Rawalpindie, where the rally was to take place, was in lockdown and there were only sporadic clashes.

Also in Peshawar Friday a suicide bomber struck at the home of the Pakistani minister for political affairs, Amir Muqam. Four people were killed, but Muqam was not hurt, according to the AP.

There have been waves of bombings in recent months targeting Pakistani officials, which have been blamed on Islamic militants. It was for this reason Musharraf said he was declaring martial law earlier this week.

But while Musharraf is going after his opposition, ABC News visited an area just 150 miles from where the Taliban is taking over.

The Swat Valley, once a popular tourist site, now has Taliban fighters wielding weapons, closing schools and taking over police stations.

People have fled from here by the hundreds of thousands, fearing the entire valley will fall to the Taliban. Still many local citizens told ABC News that Musharraf seems more worried about Bhutto than the extremists.

Bhutto, for her part, said she is determined to get out of her compound before day's end.

ABC's Martha Raddatz and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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