John Moore/Getty Images
Protesters hold a poster of Benazir Bhutto in front of a police barricade blocking the home where the former prime minister is staying in Lahore, Pakistan.
Protesters hold a poster of Benazir Bhutto in front of a police barricade blocking the home where the former prime minister is staying in Lahore, Pakistan. John Moore/Getty Images
Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who was placed under house arrest for a second time in recent days, called on President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday to step down and end emergency rule in Pakistan.
Bhutto told NPR's Morning Edition that the Lahore home where she was being held had been surrounded by thousands of troops to prevent her from leaving and leading a planned cross-country caravan to protest military rule. Bhutto was also briefly placed under house arrest during the weekend.
"I think it's time for Gen. Musharraf to leave," the former prime minister told NPR by telephone. "Ever since he took power, he has failed to build a democratic base. He said he would restore true democracy, but all he has done was twice impose martial law."
She accuses Musharraf of imposing effective martial law when he declared emergency rule on Nov. 3 — suspending citizens' rights, press freedoms and rounding up thousands of his opponents.
Bhutto also ruled out any power-sharing deal with Musharraf. She said it is now likely that her Pakistan People's Party would boycott January parliamentary elections.
Bhutto also indicated that she wanted to build an alliance with other opposition leaders, including her once bitter rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to restore democracy. Sharif was ousted by Musharraf in the 1999 coup that brought the general to power. He attempted to return to Pakistan in September but was immediately deported.
Amid the crisis, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was headed to Pakistan and expected to reiterate Washington's calls for Musharraf to lift the state of emergency.
The Bush administration - which in the past has praised Musharraf for his cooperation in the war against terror - offered a measured response to Bhutto's remarks.
"We remain concerned ... (but) we are hopeful that moderate elements would join together," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. Pakistan should get back on a path to democracy and "the political parties in Pakistan should all be working together toward that goal," she said.
Authorities on Tuesday mounted a massive security operation to prevent Bhutto from leading a procession to the capital, Islamabad, to press for an end to the emergency rule that Musharraf says is needed to fight rising Islamic militancy.
Aftab Cheema, chief of operations of Lahore city police, said Bhutto would not be allowed to leave the house, which was declared a "sub-jail."
Officers detained scores of Bhutto supporters, including two lawmakers, who approached the barricades shouting slogans including "Go Musharraf, go!" and "Prime Minister Benazir!"
Other Bhutto supporters apparently went ahead with the procession without her.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, president of Bhutto's party for Punjab, said he was leading a column of 200 vehicles from Lahore.
Police tried to stop them at several points, waylaying some of the cars and arresting several leaders, but the convoy continued southward, Qureshi said by phone.
The protest caravan is expected to take about three days and Bhutto's party forecast that thousands of supporters would join en route.
Police initially said they ramped up security around Bhutto due to intelligence that a suicide bomber was planning to attack her in Lahore.
Bhutto was targeted by an Oct. 18 suicide attack on a homecoming procession in the southern city of Karachi as she returned from years in exile. She was unscathed, but the blast killed 145 others.
She was put under house arrest in Islamabad Friday to prevent her from addressing a rally in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, where authorities issued similar warnings of suicide attacks.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press