Pakistan's Bhutto under house arrest to stop rally

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 9 (Reuters) Pakistani authorities detained opposition leader Benazir Bhutto at her home today to stop her from holding her first rally since President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule, a government minister said.

''She has been detained at home. This is temporary and is being done to stop her from going to the meeting,'' Railways Minister and close ally to Musharraf, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, told Reuters.

Bhutto is demanding army chief Musharraf sets a date for the election, steps down as army chief, restores the constitution and releases people detained since the weekend.

She had been planning to attend a rally that was due to begin in Rawalpindi near Islamabad at 1 pm (1130 IST).

But police were out in force early today, erecting barbed-wire barricades on all roads leading to the park wherethe rally was planned and sealing off Bhutto's Islamabad home.

A senior city official had said earlier police had cordoned off the house for Bhutto's protection.

A suicide bomb attack on a procession in Karachi to welcome Bhutto back to Pakistan on October 18 killed 139 people.

Army chief Musharraf imposed emergency rule last Saturday, citing a hostile judiciary and rising militancy in the nuclear-armed US ally.

Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, said yesterday general elections would be held by February 15, about a month later than they were due.

He also said he would quit as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian president once the Supreme Court ruled whether he had been eligible to stand for re-election last month while still army chief.

However, two-time prime minister Bhutto, who returned from more than eight years of self-imposed exile last month, said she wanted more than vague statements on the elections.

Bhutto has been holding power-sharing talks with Musharraf for months and political analysts say that despite her confrontation with the government this week, cooperation is still likely.

PROTESTS BROKEN UP Bhutto had earlier said that in addition to the public meeting in Rawalpindi, she planned a mass motor procession from Lahore on November 13.

Police have banned rallies and PPP officials say thousands of their activists have been detained over the past few days.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said 2,500 people had been detained since the emergency was declared.

Police wielded batons and fired teargas to disperse hundreds of opposition protesters in the northwestern city of Peshawar and a nearby town on Friday, police and witnesses said.

Outside Bhutto's home, rows of hundreds of police with batons manned barricades and an armoured vehicle was parked nearby. Several of her party activists were detained outside the house but about a dozen party officials were allowed in.

Party spokeswomen had earlier said she was determined to attend the rally.

''They are terrified of the PPP's popularity,'' said senior PPP official and member of parliament, Raja Pervez Ashraf.

Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, said by telephone from Dubai he had been unable to contact his wife.

REUTERS RJ BD1350

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