LAHORE, Nov 12: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson Benazir Bhutto was put under house arrest in the early hours of Tuesday to prevent her from leading a long march on Islamabad.
Police said an order under section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order had been issued by the Punjab government to detain Ms Bhutto for a week in the house of PPP Senator Latif Khosa where she has been staying since her arrival here on Sunday.
A Lahore police official said police deployment was being increased around Mr Khosa’s house and the PPP chairperson would stay there till further orders.
Meanwhile, Punjab police as well as Lahore police launched a ‘massive crackdown’ on PPP office-bearers and activists late in the night and rounded up hundreds of them.
Punjab PPP information secretary Farzana Raja told Dawn that telephone calls and text messages received by her confirmed reports that the Punjab police had launched the crackdown.
In Lahore, police raided different places and detained hundreds of PPP workers.
A police official confirmed that the crackdown was in progress.
A senior PPP leader quoted Ms Bhutto as saying that she was determined to lead the march despite the ban on her movement.
Ms Raja said that the PPP and its leader remained undeterred by reports that the government had planned to use ‘brute force’ to stop the march.
“We are determined to launch our march for democracy in the country,” she said.
A senior Punjab government official said police would be deployed throughout Lahore to prevent PPP workers from joining the march in violation of Section 144.The Punjab PPP information secretary said PPP workers and activists would defy all obstructions.
Another PPP leader foresaw “pitched battles (with police) everywhere in the city if the people were stopped from participating in the march”.
Police have virtually laid a siege to the residence of senator Khosa in the Defence Housing Authority from where Ms Bhutto planned to lead the march.
“Police have completely cordoned off the area around Mr Khosa’s residence, laid barbed wires and blocked roads. Armed men have been deployed on the roof of buildings nearby,” a resident said. However, he said, it was business as usual in rest of the posh locality.
Police claimed that tight security arrangements around the PPP senator’s residence had been taken on the instructions of the provincial home department in view of reports about the “possibility of a major suicide attack in Lahore and adjoining areas within the next few days”.
An official handout said a suicide attacker had entered Lahore to target Ms Bhutto and other PPP leaders. Officers had been directed to inform Ms Bhutto and her security in-charge about the reports and provide proper security cover, it said, adding that the PPP leader had been advised not to address public meetings to avoid any untoward incident.
A private TV channel reported late in the night that the provincial government had sought permission from Islamabad to extern Ms Bhutto from Punjab in view of the threat of suicide attack on her and other PPP leaders. But the report could not be confirmed as the officials concerned were not available. Most of them had either switched off their phones or did not take calls.
PPP leader Naheed Khan, however, was quoted by the TV channel as saying that they had not received any such orders.
A government official, who did not want to be named, said the police were already establishing pickets in PPP strongholds like Shadbagh, the Walled City, Mughalpura, Islampura, Harbanspura and Ghaziabad.
Meanwhile, the PPP has changed the route of the march and decided to include some more cities as some of its leaders wanted Ms Bhutto to use it as the party’s election campaign in Punjab.
Earlier in the day, the PPP chairperson went to the mausoleum of Allama Iqbal to pay homage to the Poet of the East.
Ms Bhutto also visited the residence of late PPP leader Sheikh Rafiq Ahmed and party worker Zaheer Abbas, who was killed in the Oct 18 Karachi blast, and offered fateha for the departed souls.