Source AP ©

Bhutto under house arrest not to stage protest against Musharraf

For the second time in five days Benazir Bhutto is held under house arrest. Pakistani authorities carried out a security operation not to let Bhutto lead a 300-kilometer (180-mile) protest march against emergency rule.

An aide to Bhutto claimed her supporters would storm the barricades and allow her to embark on the planned three-day procession. However, police swiftly detained the first demonstrators who tried to approach her residence.

The clampdown on Bhutto's planned caravan from Lahore to the capital, Islamabad , intensifies the political crisis engulfing Pakistan and further clouds the prospect of her forming a pro-U.S. alliance against rising Islamic extremism with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Thousands of riot police blocked all roads leading to an upscale area of Lahore from where Bhutto wanted to lead the 300-kilometer (180 mile) procession against Musharraf's assumption of emergency powers.

A total of eight trucks or tractors pulling trailers, all of them loaded with sand, were parked across one street early Tuesday morning.

Police stood behind the vehicles and a row of metal barricades topped with barbed wire. The house of a lawmaker where Bhutto was staying was out of sight for reporters, who were prevented from crossing the cordon.

Bhutto's aide, Sen. Safdar Abbasi, said the seven-day detention order was not binding because neither Bhutto nor one of her representatives had been served with the document.

"She will defy the ban," Abbasi told The Associated Press by telephone. "We are ready for the long march, and our supporters will remove all the police blockades in the way of their leader."

However, Aftab Cheema, the chief of operations of Lahore city police, told AP that a Bhutto representative had received the order issued by the government of Punjab province.

"She has been detained and she won't be allowed to come out," Cheema said. "Her residence is now a sub-jail," he said.

Police detained about 20 Bhutto supporters, including two party officials and two lawmakers, who tried to cross the barricades and drove them away in prison service vans.

"They are depriving us of our fundamental right to protest against authoritarian rule and hold a long march for the revival of democracy," Yusuf Raza Gilani, a former speaker of Pakistan 's National Assembly told reporters as he was led away.

Farzana Raja, a spokeswoman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, claimed thousands of its activists had been rounded up to thwart the march. Raja too was detained.

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