Bhutto rules out talks with Musharraf

Commonwealth considering sanctions against Pakistan

Lahore, November 12:

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto today ruled out any more power-sharing talks with Pervez Musharraf, setting herself on a direct collision course with the military ruler.

The two-time former premier, who had been in Western-backed negotiations with Musharraf before he declared a state of emergency, said she was changing tack after he refused to lift the measure.

She also promised to press ahead with a protest march planned for tomorrow, despite warnings from officials that they are likely to ban the rally.

“We are saying no to any more talks. It is a change from my past policy,”

Bhutto told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore.

“We cannot work with anyone who has suspended the constitution, imposed emergency rule, and oppressed the judiciary. That’s why we are holding the ‘long march’.” The United States and Britain had quietly supported talks on a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf in a bid to unite two pro-Western figures in the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Speaking against a backdrop of Lahore’s 16th century Badshahi mosque, Bhutto welcomed Musharraf’s promise to hold elections before January 9 but said they could not be free and fair if held under emergency rule.

“How can they be fair?” she said, adding that the date announcement “is a good development, we welcome it, but we feel there is a lot more ground to be covered.” “The decision to impose an emergency and not to quit his military uniform has led to a breakdown of talks between us and the Musharraf regime.” She said tomorrow’s rally would go ahead, adding: “I know it is dangerous but what alternatives are there?”

Authorities, however, are likely to ban the march from Lahore to the capital Islamabad, officials said.

“There will be no long march,” a senior government official in Punjab, the province that includes Lahore, told AFP. “It will not be permitted.” “It’s a political decision,” Lahore police chief Malik Mohammad Iqbal told AFP, warning that the threat of militant attacks on the march was “imminent and it is of the highest degree.”

Raja Basharat, Punjab’s law minister, said rallies were forbidden under the state of emergency, which Musharraf declared on November 3, citing a surge of militant violence and a meddling judiciary.

Musharraf has been under fierce international pressure to end the emergency since suspending the constitution and sacking CJ. Further pressure came from the Commonwealth, whose action group was due to meet in London later Monday to mull whether to suspend Pakistan, as it did for five years when Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999.