Benazir formally arrested ahead of rally

By Muhammad Najeeb

Islamabad(IANS) : Former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto was formally arrested Friday after the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader attempted to escape the police guarding her residence here to prevent her from attending a protest rally in nearby Rawalpindi.

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“She had attempted to escape with her secretary Naheed Khan but was spotted by some policemen and was again sent back to her residence,” a police official told reporters, adding that now she had been “formally arrested”.

The officer said that she had been served with arrest warrants and would remain under police custody as long as she is perceived as a threat to law and order. “She has been arrested under 16MPO for disturbing law and order,” the official said.

However, Bhutto’s spokesperson Sherry Rehman said that the PPP leader would make attempts to reach Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi where according to her hundreds of thousands of people were waiting for her. But the local administration in Rawalpindi has blocked all roads leading to the protest venue with heavy containers and barbed wires.

Earlier, speaking to some media persons over phone, Bhutto had said that she has rejected President General Pervez Musharraf’s announcement to hold elections by Feb 15. “Elections are due by Jan 15 and should be held by this date,” she said talking over a speakerphone to journalists in Rawalpindi Press Club.

Bhutto said she would make every effort to reach Liaqat Bagh to address the public rally. “I know people have come from far away places and they are waiting for me.”

She recalled her 1992 address in Liaqat Bagh when every effort was made by the then government of Nawaz Sharif to stop her from reaching the venue but she managed to reach it by riding a motorbike and travelling through the narrow streets to Rawalpindi.

“I know I will be at Liaqat Bagh again, my people are waiting… let them do whatever they like,” she said, adding that hundreds of policemen were present outside her home.

Bhutto last month had announced she would address a public meeting in Rawalpindi on Nov 9, but following the imposition of emergency by Musharraf she turned the election rally into a protest rally. The local administrator or Nazim Raja Ikhlas Ahmed said that a rally in such a situation could not be allowed.

Rawalpindi, which falls in Punjab province, is directly supervised by Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who has publicly rejected Bhutto’s power-sharing talks with Musharraf and opposed any election alliance with the PPP.

Bhutto’s homecoming on Oct 18 was facilitated by the ruling party in Karachi – Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM). However, Elahi had strongly opposed it and is creating troubles for the PPP in organising public meetings.

Meanwhile, Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, who has been elected from his Rawalpindi home constituency, said that Bhutto has been taken into safe custody in view of terror threats to her.

He told reporters that he had information that terrorists had entered Rawalpindi and Bhutto had been taken into safe custody in view of her security.

An interior ministry spokesperson was quoted by the media Friday saying they had received intelligence reports that eight terrorists, possibly suicide attackers, have entered Islamabad and adjacent Rawalpindi in order to create chaos.