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Bhutto takes to the streets

The Baltimore Sun

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A day after being placed under house arrest, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto drove through the streets of Pakistan's capital yesterday, stopping several times to get out of her bulletproof SUV and shake hands. But police stopped her from meeting the country's suspended chief justice.

Bhutto's short road trip could mean that the government is trying to improve its poor public image since embattled President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency Nov. 3. The country's attorney general also said the emergency would last only a month, although other government officials said the timeline is not yet certain.

But the government, facing international pressure and a domestic backlash, also showed yesterday that it is still unwilling to tolerate much dissent.

It expelled three British journalists - two from the Daily Telegraph and one from the Sunday Telegraph - after the Daily Telegraph ran an editorial Friday using an expletive to describe Musharraf and saying that Pakistan "has a strong claim to be the most dangerous country in the world." The government accused the newspaper of using "foul and abusive" language and gave the reporters 72 hours to leave.

The move raised worries that restrictions on the Pakistani news media might be extended to the international press. The government has banned any coverage determined to be humiliating to Musharraf or his government, and private television news stations have been knocked off the air since Nov. 3.

In Texas, President Bush said yesterday that Musharraf had taken positive steps by promising to lift the state of emergency, step down as army chief and hold parliamentary elections. He offered no criticism of Musharraf, who is seen as a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Bush did not directly answer a question about whether the political crisis in Pakistan is distracting from the war against Islamic militants and al-Qaida.

"I vowed to the American people to keep the pressure on them. I fully understand we need cooperation to do so," Bush said. "One country we need cooperation from is Pakistan."

Journalists protested the media curbs in Islamabad, shouting slogans against the government. Bhutto joined the journalists briefly and called for press freedom.

Until yesterday, Bhutto had largely avoided talking about the Supreme Court, despite the fact that Musharraf purged the court of all independent justices last week. She never demanded the restoration of the judiciary, saying only that a reinstatement of the constitution entailed restoring the justices.

The Supreme Court has also been hearing a case challenging an ordinance that drops pending corruption charges against Bhutto.

Kim Barker writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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