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Bhutto to defy ban on protest rallies


Islamabad : The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of former premier Benazir Bhutto Monday vowed to go ahead with a scheduled march on the capital in protest of the current state of emergency, despite a government ban on political rallies.

Bhutto plans to lead a “long march for democracy” to Islamabad from the city of Lahore in Pakistan’s central Punjab province Tuesday in order to mobilize the masses against the measures introduced by President General Pervez Musharraf earlier this month, which includes a ban on public gatherings of five or more people.

“We will go ahead with the long march no matter what,” Jehangir Badar, a senior leader of the PPP, told DPA. “Demonstration is our political right and no one can deprive us of it,” he added.

The Punjab government was due to meet in Lahore Monday to review the situation arising out of Bhutto’s proposed march and decide steps to tackle the situation, provincial Minister for Law Raja Basharat said.

Bhutto announced the march amid calls for restoration of the suspended constitution, reinstatement of the dissolved top judiciary, holding of scheduled elections and release of thousands of her party activists she says were detained in recent days.

The police prevented her from leading a protest rally in the city of Rawalpindi Friday by placing her under house arrest for a day at her residence in Islamabad.

Plans for the march were also unaffected by Musharraf’s announcement Sunday that parliamentary elections would be held on time and before January 9.

But the president refused to give a date for the end of emergency rule, saying the measure was necessary to strengthen the fight against terrorism and safeguard preparations for the polls.

The opposition leader welcomed the news of the election timeframe, but warned it was not adequate to defuse the ongoing political crisis.