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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 November 2007, 00:55 GMT
Bhutto house arrest order lifted
Benazir Bhutto addressing supporters outside her home 9-11-07
Roadblocks were set up around Ms Bhutto's Islamabad home

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been released from house arrest in the capital, Islamabad, officials say.

The order had blocked Ms Bhutto's bid to lead a rally against the emergency rule declared by President Musharraf.

The United States welcomed her release as positive and called for moderate forces to work to restore democracy.

Ms Bhutto has vowed to wage a campaign aimed at forcing Gen Musharraf to stand down as head of the army.

Ms Bhutto has called for a "long march" starting on 13 November, from Lahore to Islamabad, if her key demands are not met.

Democratic credentials

A three-day detention order was served on the former prime minister after she tried to cross the heavy police cordon set up outside her home on Friday.

Police had surrounded the house early in the morning with roadblocks and coils of barbed wire to prevent her from addressing a rally in the neighbouring city of Rawalpindi.

A supporter of Benazir Bhutto is taken away by police in Islamabad (9 November)
PPP supporters were rounded up by police in Islamabad on Friday

Under emergency rule announced last week, such public gatherings have been banned.

Senior officials were later quoted as saying the detention order had been withdrawn. A spokeswoman for Ms Bhutto's party said she had no information about the move.

Officials said that it was a temporary measure because of a fear of suicide bombers attacking the planned rally, and that it would be lifted by Saturday.

Last month a suicide bomber killed nearly 140 people at a mass gathering as Ms Bhutto returned home from exile.

On Friday Ms Bhutto made several attempts to leave her home but was turned back. She finally emerged to address the media through a megaphone from behind the barricades.

She repeated opposition demands that Gen Musharraf should lift the state of emergency, resign as army chief and hold elections by mid-January.

"We are calling for the revival of our constitution and respect for our judiciary," she said.

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"We are calling for General Musharraf to keep his commitment and retire as chief of army staff on 15 November."

The BBC's Chris Morris in Islamabad says that under emergency regulations the detention order could be re-imposed at short notice.

However, our correspondent says it has been a good day for Ms Bhutto, bolstering her democratic credentials at a time when other opposition parties still believe she plans to do a deal with Gen Musharraf.

She is putting him under pressure at home while his Western allies are putting him under pressure abroad, our correspondent says.

'Vague' words

Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) said 5,000 of its activists had been arrested since the weekend, and that police detained about 100 people outside her residence on Friday.

The United States, which has been the principal backer of Gen Musharraf in his fight against pro-Taleban militants, was quick to criticise the restrictions on Ms Bhutto and welcomed the decision to lift her detention order.

Bhutto supporters clash with police in Karachi (9 November)
The PPP says 5,000 activists have been arrested in recent days

"As we have said for the past week, we believe it's important for those moderate forces ... within the Pakistan political system to work together to get Pakistan back on the road to democracy and constitutional rule," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

On Thursday Gen Musharraf pledged to hold parliamentary elections by 15 February - a month later than they were due.

He also renewed a promise to quit as head of the army, if and when the Supreme Court validated his recent re-election as president.

However, Ms Bhutto dismissed his words as "vague" and "generalised".

Gen Musharraf announced his decision to hold elections after coming under pressure from US President George W Bush.

The general imposed a state of emergency on Saturday, blaming militant violence and an unruly judiciary.

A media blackout is still in force. International channels like the BBC and CNN were allowed back on air on Thursday but have since been blocked.



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