Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been placed under house arrest ahead of a planned protest march against the emergency law imposed by President Pervez Musharraf. Ms. Bhutto has also sought to form an alliance with former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that Ms. Bhutto today repeatedly called on General Musharraf to resign as president and army chief.
Ms. Bhutto has given mixed signals about whether she would work with President Musharraf since he imposed emergency rule on November 3. But after being placed under house arrest Tuesday in Lahore, Ms. Bhutto gave the clearest denunciation yet of her political rival.
In a phone interview with Sky news, Ms. Bhutto said General Musharraf's autocratic rule had undermined the war against militants who are destabilizing Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"And that's why we say Musharraf must leave. The time for dictatorship is over," she said. "It was tried and it failed to contain militancy."
In interviews with other news agencies, she said she would not serve as prime minister under President Musharraf.
The president has said the government plans to hold elections on schedule in January, but he has also insisted that military-enforced emergency laws that suspend basic rights will not undermine those polls.
Opposition parties have rejected the claim and said they will boycott the elections if emergency rule is not lifted. Ms. Bhutto Tuesday suggested her party might join them.
President Bush has said the emergency order must be lifted to ensure free elections.
General Musharraf has defended the thousands of arrests of protesting lawyers and rights activists under the emergency laws as necessary to preserve law and order.
In Lahore on Tuesday, hundreds of security forces used barbed wire, steel barricades and dump trucks loaded with sand to hold back people trying to reach Ms. Bhutto.
Senior PPP leader Farzana Raja spoke to VOA by telephone from outside the Lahore residence where Ms. Bhutto is staying.
"Right now I am standing at the barricade. Police have stopped me; they are not allowing me to go inside," said Raja. "They are saying that we don't have instructions from the government, we can't go to Benazir Bhutto and we can't meet her. And now they are getting very aggressive."
Raja and other leaders of the Pakistan People's Party have insisted a three-day protest march to Islamabad will continue.
Other opposition parties have said they will not join the march. It is unclear if those people who choose to demonstrate will be able to overcome the thousands of security forces deployed to prevent such rallies.
So far, President Musharraf has been able to prevent large-scale rallies against him and appears determined to stop the protest movement from gaining momentum.