Saturday, February 2, 2008

Pakistan Re-Arrests Prominent Lawyer

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan authorities put a prominent lawyer back under house arrest Saturday after he tried to visit the grave of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, his spokesman said.

Aitzaz Ahsan's detention came just two days after he had been released from three months of house arrest. Ahsan, the president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, was first arrested during President Pervez Musharraf's crackdown under a state of emergency last year.

Police stopped Ahsan at the airport in the eastern city of Lahore and told him he could not fly to Sindh province where he planned to visit Bhutto's grave. Bhutto was assassinated Dec. 27 while leaving an election campaign rally.

Sindh Home Minister Akhtar Zamin said Ahsan had been banned from the province. "We are in an election process, and we don't want anybody to come into the province and disrupt the election process," Zamin said.

Ahsan returned home, telling reporters that the ban was illegal and had been issued on the federal government's orders.

"I was just going to condole the death of our slain leader, but the government is scared and took this illegal action," he said. "We will contest this move."

Later, Punjab provincial authorities served Ahsan with an order confining him to his home for 30 days, according to his spokesman Aftab Alam. No reason was given for his detention.

In London, The Sunday Times newspaper said Bhutto named the 16-year-old son of Osama Bin Laden as the leader of one of four gangs of "designated assassins" planning to kill her.

The allegation was made in an autobiography Bhutto wrote before she was killed Dec. 27 in a bombing in Rawalpindi, the newspaper said.

The newspaper, which printed what it said were excerpts of the book, quoted Bhutto as saying she had been warned by the Pakistani government and a "foreign Muslim government" that four suicide bomber teams were plotting to kill her.

They included teams led by bin Laden's son and Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, whom U.S. and Pakistani officials believe masterminded her assassination.

Parliamentary elections on Feb. 18 are meant to usher in democracy after eight years of military rule under Musharraf, who has been a valued U.S. ally in the war on terrorism but has struggled recently to contain a wave of Islamic militancy.

Musharraf's popularity has wanned recently and he could face a stiff challenge from the opposition in the elections.

One of his top challengers, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, promised Saturday to pursue the cases of hundreds of missing people if his party wins the vote. He spoke to about 100 people who believe their missing relatives are being held by intelligence agencies.

"No government agency or official has a mandate to keep people in illegal confinement," Sharif said.

The relatives held pictures of their loved ones as they gathered in a tent in front of Sharif's mansion in an upscale Lahore neighborhood. One young girl carried a sign reading: "When can we meet our dad? Tell us Uncle Musharraf."

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