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Benazir plans ‘long march’
Will defy rally ban
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

Former Prime Minister and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto today warned General Musharraf that she would launch a "long march" from Lahore to Islamabad next week if he failed to rescind the emergency, restore the Constitution and announced election schedule.

"I urge General Musharraf to allow peaceful transition to democracy through elections in order to avoid the wrath of the people," Benazir said while addressing a press conference after presiding over a meeting of the emaciated Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) here. She said Musharraf must fulfil promises made to her and the nation and shed uniform by November 15.

She denied that any meeting was scheduled with Musharraf during her stay in Islamabad adding that the PPP had snapped all contacts with the government until emergency was withdrawn and election schedule announced. She accused the ruling coalition of trying to prolong their stay in power by delaying elections and extending the term of the assembly by one year.

Appearing to be in a defiant mood, the PPP chairperson condemned the Punjab government's ban on her party's public meeting planned in Rawalpindi on November 9 and said she would defy the ban and hold the meeting as scheduled. "It will be turned into a protest meeting against the emergency and suspension of the Constitution."

Punjab government has said it would enforce the ban and warned PPP workers not to take law in their hands. The PPP boycotted the National Assembly session which began here this evening with only members of ruling coalition attending.

Benazir said on March 13 she will land in Lahore to launch a "long march" to Islamabad where the participants would stage a sit in. She called for immediate release of students, workers lawyers, judges and civil society activists. She said Musharraf had struck at the judiciary as he feared it would pronounce judgement against his eligibility.

She also vowed to unite the Opposition saying she was already in touch with leaders of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) for an all parties' conference to chalk out a joint strategy against the imposition of emergency. She acknowledged there were differences with other opposition parties but insisted the objective was the same though she called for dialogue while other leaders wanted confrontation. She asked JUI chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to sit with her to help restore democracy and the constitution.

Fazl, who like Benazir has been spared arrest, flew into Islamabad today and expressed his willingness to meet her. He said he is willing to meet Benazir for the cause of restoration of democracy. He said the supreme council of the Muttahida Majlise Amal (MMA) will meet here on Thursday to discuss Musharraf's "reckless" actions. Top leaders of the grouping, including its chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, are under house arrest.

Benazir called for immediate release of students, political workers, lawyers, judges, journalists and civil society activists.

The former premier conceded that Musharraf played for time while engaging her in dialogue but insisted she wanted a peaceful transition through dialogue but the regime "played dishonestly".

"The Constitution should be restored and Election Commission should announce the schedule for the next general elections," she said adding that the commission be reconstituted to make it independent and neutral. She said, "It is due to dictatorship in the country that extremism is on the rise and we want democracy through transparent and free elections".



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