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Former Pakistani Prime Minister Allowed to Meet Party Officials


Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto joined protests in the capital against emergency rule Saturday and tried to meet with the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad, where state television broadcast some reports on her speeches throughout the day.

Police relaxed the security cordon around Ms. Bhutto's local residence this morning and allowed her to drive around the city for meetings with party officials and protesters.

In the parking lot of a private television station, where hundreds of journalists chanted and wore black armbands signifying the death of the independent press, Ms. Bhutto said she and her party stand for a free news media.

"The Pakistan People's Party and I are with them in their struggle for freedom," she said.

Most independent broadcast news stations remain off the air in Pakistan, and some newspapers have been censored. But in recent days, state television has carried reports of Ms. Bhutto's speeches, indicating the government is willing to allow some coverage of her organizing efforts.

Pakistan's attorney general announced Saturday that emergency laws would be suspended within one month. But officials with Ms. Bhutto's party have insisted on an immediate end to the laws and restoration of basic rights.

[U.S. President George Bush said Saturday during a news conference in Texas, that promises by Mr. Musharraf to lift the state of emergency are "positive steps." He added that the United States needs the cooperation of Pakistan to combat the militant group al-Qaida.]

While police on Saturday allowed Ms. Bhutto to move freely around most of the capital, there were limits. She tried to visit the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry, who has been an opposition symbol since he was removed from office last Saturday.

Police blocked Ms. Bhutto's car as it approached the home of the former chief justice.

Surrounded by supporters, journalists and hundreds of riot police, Ms. Bhutto demanded Justice Chaudhry be reinstated.

She said rather than detaining the country's senior judges, security forces should try to detain pro-Taliban militants, such as Maulana Fazlullah, whose forces have overrun towns in the Northwest Frontier Province in recent weeks.

Ms. Bhutto said there is a growing coalition of opposition groups against General Pervez Musharraf, the president, and his suspension of the constitution. She appealed to all Pakistanis to join a march on Tuesday from Lahore to Islamabad. Organizers say they expect an outpouring of support that will help build an opposition coalition

The government's response to the march will be an important indicator of how much dissent it will tolerate. .

Police successfully prevented Friday's mass protest in Rawalpindi. If the government decides to ban Tuesday's march, it is unclear if organizers will be able to draw significant crowds to the streets.

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