Bhutto supporters arrested, Bush calls Musharraf

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 8 (Reuters) Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto's party today said that police had arrested thousands of its activists overnight, hours after US President George W Bush urged President Pervez Musharraf to hold elections and quit as army chief.

Police had already detained hundreds of lawyers and other opposition figures and supporters since General Musharraf imposed emergency rule and suspended the constitution on Saturday.

''They have raided homes of our activists across Punjab throughout the night. The number of people arrested is now in the thousands,'' said Farzana Raja, a party spokeswoman in the Punjab province.

Aftab Cheema, a senior police officer in Lahore, confirmed that 150 PPP activists had been picked up in the provincial capital and similar action was being taken elsewhere in Punjab.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party plans to hold a public meeting in Rawalpindi, adjoining the capital Islamabad, on Friday to protest over emergency rule. Bhutto has threatened a mass motorcade from Lahore on November 13 unless Musharraf backs down.

Police have warned the party that rallies are banned.

''All kind of rallies have been banned because we have reports from intelligence agencies that 7 to 8 suicide bombers have sneaked into Punjab,'' Saud Aziz, Rawalpindi police chief, told Reuters.

''We don't want a repeat of the Karachi incident,'' he said, referring to a suicide attack last month in the southern city during a procession to mark Bhutto's homecoming after eight years of self-imposed exile. At least 139 people were killed.

The Karachi stock market fell 1.8 per cent by early afternoon today as Bhutto's protest threat stoked uncertainty.

The market had held steady for a couple of days after a fall of 4.6 per cent on Monday in reaction to the emergency, and the benchmark index is now around 10 per cent off its historic high reached on October 22.

Bush spoke directly with Musharraf overnight for the first time since the ruler of nuclear-armed Pakistan imposed the state of emergency, citing a hostile judiciary and rising militancy.

The United States had hoped Bhutto would share power with Musharraf after elections due in January, but the imposition of the emergency left US policy toward Pakistan in disarray, as Musharraf has been a valued asset in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

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