-File photo

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan People's Party on Tuesday called off a major public rally designed to kickstart its re-election campaign in favour of smaller events, officials said.

The Pakistani Taliban have directly threatened the PPP and its secular coalition partners, and a string of recent attacks is raising fears that violence could mar the run-up to May 11 elections.

The PPP said last week it would start its campaign with a public rally in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, the village housing the Bhutto family mausoleum, on the anniversary of the hanging of its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4, 1979.

The party holds public rallies on the anniversary every year.

But on Tuesday, a party spokesman in the nearby town of Naudero said the gathering would take place in a hall and would be closed to all but state media. PPP politicians would also hold separate events in other districts, he said.

“We are not organising a big national-level rally this time. Meetings are being held at district level separately,” Ghulam Mustafa Leghari told AFP.

Zulfiqar's daughter and former PPP prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a gun and suicide attack after an election rally in Rawalpindi in 2007. The PPP was elected in 2008 on a wave of public sympathy.

President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, will address Thursday's meeting in Naudero, Leghari said, but he did not confirm whether Bilawal, chairman of the party and Bhutto's son, would also attend.

“Only official media will be allowed to cover this meeting. Other media can stand outside and take the feed from Pakistan Television,” Leghari added.

Local party officials denied the rescheduling had anything to do with security concerns and senior spokesmen were not immediate reachable.

“It (the change) is only a technical reason. Our candidates are busy with paperwork, scrutiny and the election campaign,” said Lateef Mughal, PPP information secretary in Zardari's home town Karachi.

Last week, main PPP spokesman Qamar Zaman Kaira told AFP that 24-year-old Bilawal, who is too young to contest a seat, would make few public appearances “due to security concerns”.

The revised arrangements for Thursday stand in stark contrast to the major campaign rallies that the PPP's main rivals have already held.

On March 25 opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, widely tipped to win the election, attracted tens of thousands in the northwestern town of Mansehra.

Cricket legend Imran Khan, contesting elections for the first time and considered a possible kingmaker after the polls, has also pulled in crowds of tens of thousands at major public events across the country.