Pakistan to end state of emergency in 1 month

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto leaves home for first time after a day under house arrest.

bhutto wave 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
bhutto wave 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Pakistan will lift its state of emergency within one month, a senior government official said Saturday, amid sharp US criticism of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's step back from democracy. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, meanwhile, left her home for the first time after a day under house arrest, traveling to a meeting with party colleagues. Aides said she would meet later with foreign diplomats. Musharraf insists he called the week-old emergency to help fight Islamic extremists who control swathes of territory near the Afghan border. But Pakistan's secular opposition, as well as its increasingly independent courts and media, have been the main target of the subsequent repression. Under growing international pressure, Musharraf has announced that parliamentary elections initially slated for January will be held no more than a month later. And on Saturday the government's top lawyer said the state of emergency would be short-lived. "The state of emergency will end within one month," Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview. He provided no further details and would not say when a formal announcement might come. Security forces threw a cordon around Bhutto's villa in an upscale neighborhood of the capital Friday, and rounded up thousands of her supporters to prevent a planned demonstration against the crackdown. In Rawalpindi, the nearby garrison town where she had hoped to address the rally, police used tear gas and batons against hundreds of Bhutto loyalists who staged wildcat protests and hurled stones. The action further dimmed the prospect of the two U.S.-friendly leaders forming an alliance against militants _ a rising threat underlined by a suicide bombing on Friday at the home of a Cabinet minister. Four people died, though the minister escaped unhurt. The Bush administration called for the restrictions on Bhutto to be lifted, and Pakistan's government said late Friday she was again free to move about. On Saturday morning, police pulled aside the metal barriers blocking the street leading to her villa to let her four-vehicle convoy pass. Three police vehicles escorted her to the headquarters of her Pakistan People's Party for a meeting with other leaders. Bhutto aides said the former premier would discuss Pakistan's political crisis with foreign ambassadors at a dinner later Saturday. In Washington, some lawmakers called for aid to Pakistan to be curtailed unless Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, quickly relaxes his crackdown and presses ahead with long-promised democratic reform. As Musharraf's chief international backer, the Bush administration is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 160 million people on the front lines of the U.S.-led campaign against al-Qaida and its allies.