Bhutto's Brief Detention Prompts Concerns Friday morning in Pakistan, a detention order was imposed on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. By the end of the day, it was lifted. The United States expressed concern about her detention and urged Pakistani authorities "to quickly return to constitutional order and democratic norms."
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Bhutto's Brief Detention Prompts Concerns

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Bhutto's Brief Detention Prompts Concerns

Bhutto's Brief Detention Prompts Concerns

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

There are conflicting reports about whether the police and barriers around the home of Pakistan's former prime minister are actually being removed. But the acting deputy commissioner of Islamabad says an order for Benazir Bhutto's detention has been withdrawn. The state of emergency ordered by General Pervez Musharraf has now been in place for nearly a week. And police placed Bhutto under house arrest this morning, preventing her from attending a rally.

That prompted a new White House call for an early end to the state of emergency and the release of political party members and peaceful protesters.

NPR's Philip Reeves is in Islamabad. He has this report and analysis of today's events.

PHILIP REEVES: A squad of riot police tramps up as if ready for battle. They've come here in case there's trouble with people like this…

(Soundbite of protesters chanting)

REEVES: A group of Bhutto's party activists. They are outside Bhutto's residence. Bhutto is inside separated from us by razor wire, concrete barriers and lots of police.

(Soundbite of people clashing)

REEVES: Every now and then, intelligence agents in plain clothes pounce on one of her supporters and whisk them away. At face value, this looks like a clear-cut confrontation - a famous woman politician versus a military dictator. But when you look more closely, the picture is a little more complicated. It's like arm wrestling.

President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): Pakistan is on the verge of destabilization.

REEVES: On one side of the table, you have Musharraf, president and army chief. The general has the support of the U.S., which regards him as indispensable in the war on Islamist militancy. He's been in power for eight years and he wants to stay there. But he's unpopular and his opponents claim his recent reelection was illegal. Musharraf was so worried that Pakistan's Supreme Court would agree with them that he imposed emergency rule.

Ms. BENAZIR BHUTTO (Former Prime Minister, Pakistan): This is a battle for democracy.

REEVES: On the other side of the table, you have another formidable combatant - Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister. Bhutto also has the support of the U.S. She also wants Musharraf to stay as president, but she and Washington are trying to push Musharraf into a transition from military to civilian rule. That means he must resign as army chief and hold parliamentary elections. Bhutto hopes this will mean she'll get another shot at being prime minister. And Washington hopes that means they keep their man, Musharraf, and that the two of them form a secular front against the Islamists. The two have been negotiating for months, now they're using different tactics to force each other's arms. Bhutto says it's all Musharraf's fault.

Ms. BHUTTO: And I'm very disappointed that though there was a peaceful way, he chose the nonpolitical path.

REEVES: That's Bhutto speaking today outside her residence. She was on one side of the barbwire, the camera crews and scores of riot police were on the other.

Ms. BHUTTO: We are calling for the revival of our constitution and respect for our tradition. We are calling for General Musharraf to keep his commitment and resign as chief of army (unintelligible).

REEVES: Musharraf locked up Bhutto in her house today because she decided to call a rally of her supporters in the nearby city of Rawalpindi. This was her way of pressuring Musharraf and his fellow generals to agree to her demands. But under emergency rule, demonstrations are banned. Thousands of police and troops were deployed in Rawalpindi, sealing off the rally ground.

Ms. BHUTTO: So the regime has a choice, either paralysis or not putting obstacles in our path.

REEVES: Bhutto, a master of publicity, was still able to take center stage and she made the most of it. The government eventually tried to counterattack by saying it was worried her mass rally would be attacked by a suicide bomber. But by the time they came out with that argument, Bhutto had already stolen the show.

For the players themselves, that's what it is - a show, political theatre created to pressure one another. But there's nothing entertaining about the crisis for thousands of Pakistanis out in the provincial towns and cities, away from the cameras, who've been arrested and beaten simply for demanding real democracy and rule of law.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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