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Defiant Bhutto vows mass protest against Musharraf

Written by: Staff

ISLAMABAD, Nov 10 (Reuters) Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto will defy President Pervez Musharraf and go ahead with a pro-democracy rally next week, an aide said today, as Washington called on Pakistan to end its state of emergency.

A defiant Bhutto, who was kept under house arrest in Islamabad yesterday to prevent her from leading a protest in the adjoining garrison town of Rawalpindi, plans on Tuesday to set off in a motorcade from Lahore to the capital.

Police maintained a strong security presence at Bhutto's Islamabad residence early today, complete with barbed wire and concrete barriers.

Pakistan's slide into political uncertainty has accelerated over the past week with military chief Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule scaring foreign investors and spooking domestic markets. Thousands of Musharraf opponents have been arrested.

Bhutto, the Pakistani politician most able to mobilise masses on the streets, left her residence today saying she was going to meet civil society groups. She was due to meet foreign diplomats later in the day.

''I thank the international community for standing by the people of Pakistan and supporting people's democratic aspirations and for elections on time,'' Bhutto told reporters as she left her residence in a bullet-proof white Land Cruiser.

She said she would head to Lahore tomorrow, from where her motorcade protest was due to set off for Islamabad on November 13.

''If he restores the constitution, takes off his uniform, gives up the office of the chief of army staff and announces an election by January 15, then it's OK,'' she shouted to supporters across barbed wire yesterday as police used batons and teargas to break up small protests in several parts of the country.

Musharraf has said elections will 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 new judges appointed to the Supreme Court struck down challenges against his re-election.

Officials say Musharraf will likely keep the emergency short.

''The emergency will end within a month or two. It all depends on the law and order situation. If it is normal, the emergency will be lifted,'' said Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum.

Bhutto has been holding power-sharing talks with Musharraf for months and political analysts say cooperation between the pair -- which the United States was earlier said to have been encouraging -- is still possible.

More Reuters JT DS1405

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