Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto yesterday urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to quit in her most direct challenge yet to his rule, vowing never to serve under him in government.
Holed up under house arrest with close aides in Lahore as more than 1,000 police manned barbed wire barricades outside, she urged the world to abandon the president, seen by many in the West as vital to the "war on terror."
"It is over with Musharraf," she said in an interview from inside the residence where she has been detained to stop her leading a mass procession against emergency rule.
"General Musharraf must quit. He must quit as president and as chief of army staff. I call on the international community to stop backing him -- to stop backing the man whose dictatorship threatens to engulf this nuclear-armed state in chaos," she said.
The two-time former prime minister, who had been in Western-backed power-sharing negotiations with Musharraf, said he was a failed leader for imposing a state of emergency 10 days ago, suspending the Constitution, sacking senior judges and cracking down on political dissent and the media.
"I would not serve as prime minister under a man who has repeatedly broken his promises, who is a dictator," Bhutto said.
"Look what he is giving to the nation -- imposing an emergency, suspending the Constitution and cracking down on democratic forces. We gave him a roadmap for a peaceful transition but he has flouted that," she said.
As Bhutto spoke, about 100 cars carrying her supporters set off from the eastern city -- defying an official ban -- to press demands for an end to the emergency.
"There is a caravan of more than 100 cars heading out of Lahore. We are on our way," said Shah Mahmoud Qureshi, an official from her Pakistan People's Party.
Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, is struggling to contain a wave of anger over emergency rule despite promising parliamentary elections by Jan. 9.
Authorities had banned the rally and slapped a seven-day detention order on Bhutto, citing security fears as they did last Friday to prevent her leading another anti-Musharraf protest in Rawalpindi.
Double rolls of barbed wire encircled the house in an upmarket area of the city. Wooden barricades, sandbags and heavy containers added extra layers of security.
Police arrested Bhutto supporters who tried to push through. Many shouted "Prime Minister Benazir" as they were shoved into prison vans.
International anger over the crisis mounted, with the Commonwealth giving Musharraf 10 days to restore the constitution and lift the emergency measures or see Pakistan suspended.
US President George W. Bush was reported to be sending a special envoy to Pakistan to tell Musharraf in person to end emergency rule.
The US embassy said US Secretary of State John Negroponte would visit the country shortly on a previously scheduled trip, without saying if he was the envoy referred to by the New York Times.
"The president thinks we need to lift the emergency rule in order to have free and fair elections," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters on Monday.
The US has long regarded Musharraf as a vital ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and had been hoping for an alliance between him and Bhutto as a bulwark against extremism.