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Pakistan Detains Opposition Leader, Arrests Hundreds Before Pro-Democracy Rally

Plain clothes, uniformed police officers arrest opposition Pakistan People's Party worker, center in the glasses, in Lahore, Pakistan, Friday
Pakistani police have detained the husband of exiled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, as he re-entered the country Saturday to lead an anti-government rally. Hundreds of other opposition supporters have also been arrested in a government crackdown on political protests.

Police boarded the plane of Asif Ali Zardari as soon as it landed in Lahore Saturday morning.

After pushing back more than a hundred supporters at the airport, authorities took Mr. Zardari to his home, where he is under what is being described as protective custody.

His supporters in the Pakistan People's Party say he is under arrest, preventing him from leading a planned pro-democracy rally in Lahore.

"The police...cordoned off the whole area and nobody is allowed to enter on the roads. There's no communication," PPP senator and party spokesman, Farhatullah Babar said.

Mr. Babar says a number of other PPP leaders and senior aides traveling with Mr. Zardari were also arrested after landing Saturday.

The group was returning from Dubai, where Mr. Zardari met with his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. This was the couple's first visit since Mr. Zardari - who served eight years in jail for corruption - was released on bail in late 2004.

Mrs. Bhutto, who still manages the opposition PPP, lives in self-imposed exile after she was charged with corruption in Pakistan.

Since Mr. Zardari's release, the PPP has been trying to regain ground, having been marginalized under General Pervez Musharraf's five-year presidency.

Local authorities temporarily banned meetings of more than three people and conducted mass arrests of PPP supporters - after the government vowed to prevent Saturday's scheduled rally.

How many remains unclear. The PPP insists thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people are behind bars.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed denies the PPP claims, saying only about a hundred people have been temporarily detained.

"Totally false story…and if some people were arrested, everybody is going to be released," he said.

Opposition leaders say government tactics will not intimidate them. Despite Saturday's setback, they say a fresh rally will be organized and held as soon as Mr. Zardari can move about freely.