Authorities freed former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto from house arrest yesterday, hours before the arrival of a senior US official expected to urge the country's military leader to end emergency rule.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pressed ahead with disputed plans for elections, despite the threat of an opposition boycott, by swearing in a caretaker administration.
Before dawn, the government withdrew a detention order that had confined Bhutto to a house in Lahore for three days. Scores of guards and barricades would remain for Bhutto's own protection, but she was free to move around, said Zahid Abbas, a senior police official.
Bhutto immediately reiterated her call for Musharraf to quit power and said his sidelining of moderate opponents had allowed the rise of Islamic extremism.
"Do we want to deny this nation its true legitimate leadership and make way ... for extremist forces?" she asked reporters from behind a metal and barbed wire barrier across the driveway to her residence.
"The West's interests lie in a democratic Pakistan," she said.
Bhutto, who returned from eight years in exile last month, was detained on Tuesday to prevent her from leading a protest against Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency on Nov. 3.
She has the highest profile among the thousands of political activists who have been detained in a government crackdown on dissent that sparked an outcry at home and abroad.
Musharra insists he is still moving toward a restoration of democracy and civilian rule.
At a ceremony in Islamabad, he said the outgoing Cabinet should be proud of having helped turn around the economy and move Pakistan back toward democracy.
"I take pride in the fact that, being a man in uniform, I have actually introduced the essence of democracy in Pakistan, whether anyone believes it or not," he said after installing the caretaker ministers at the presidential palace.
The interim government, led by Musharraf loyalist and former Senate chairman Mohammedmian Soomro, is charged with guiding Pakistan through parliamentary elections due by Jan. 9.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was due in Pakistan later yesterday to discuss the political crisis. He was expected to hold most of his talks today, though it was unclear whether he would meet with Bhutto.
Bhutto dismissed the idea that Negroponte would urge them to mend that breach.
"Any new talks with Musharraf would be harmful to our struggle," she said. "It's better to discuss his exit strategy now."