The party of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto vowed yesterday to hold a rally near the Pakistani capital to protest emergency rule, despite threats from officials to crush it.
Lawyers scuffled with police during a third day of protests against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's weekend declaration of a state of emergency.
Attorneys' attempts to demonstrate have been repeatedly put down with police force. However, a violent clash with Bhutto's supporters would dramatically escalate the political crisis engulfing a country that is also battling rising Islamic militancy.
"We denounce the government ban and want to make it clear that our supporters and leaders will reach Rawalpindi for the rally," Babar Awan, a senior member of her Pakistan People's Party, told the media.
The mayor of Rawalpindi, a garrison city just south of Islamabad, said police would be out in force to prevent anyone reaching the park where Bhutto hoped to address supporters tomorrow.
"We will ensure that they don't violate the ban on rallies, and if they do it, the government will take action according to the law," mayor Javed Akhlas said.
Akhlas said there was a "strong threat" of another suicide attack against Bhutto, who escaped a blast during a procession welcoming her home from exile in Karachi on Oct. 18 that killed more than 140 people.
A suicide bomber blew himself up a few hundred meters from Musharraf's office in Rawalpindi on Oct. 30, killing seven people.
With the encouragement of the US, Musharraf had been holding talks with Bhutto that were widely expected to lead to a power-sharing arrangement after parliamentary elections slated for January.
That would introduce more democracy to a nuclear-armed country where the increasing strength of al-Qaeda and Taliban militants is alarming the West.
But with the Constitution suspended, authorities have detained thousands of opposition activists, lawyers and human rights workers, put a stranglehold on the media and suggested the election could be delayed by up to a year. Officials say about 2,500 people have been detained.
Bhutto said on Tuesday that Musharraf's resort to authoritarian measures was a "breach of trust" with her and that the talks were off.
However, she also suggested that they could resume if circumstances change.
"I think we should all come down as strongly as we can for the restoration of democracy," she said.