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Bhutto blocked from visiting chief justice

  • Story Highlights
  • Freed from house arrest Former Pakistani PM Bhutto joins journalist protest
  • Pakistani journalists protest emergency rule, media blackout
  • Police enter press club in Peshawar where journalists are protesting
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani security forces blocked former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto from visiting the ousted chief justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, on Saturday.

It was one of the government's latest actions in its crackdown on opponents that began last Saturday when President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution.

The office of Pakistani Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum told CNN on Saturday that the emergency declaration will be lifted within one month, but would not say when a formal announcement might come.

Bhutto was allowed to leave her villa compound Saturday after a day of confinement inside her home to thwart a massive opposition rally that had been planned for Friday.

Before trying to visit Chaudhry in Islamabad, Bhutto joined journalists in the capital who were protesting the media blackout.

"I have come to visit the chief justice of Pakistan who is under house arrest," Bhutto told reporters. "I had been told that the chief justice couldn't leave his home but that he was allowed visitors.

"So I came to visit with him and to tell him that my party stood for the independence of the judiciary, but unfortunately it seems that the regime has decided to put barbed wire and barricades to stop my visit."

Pakistani security officials have blocked the road leading to Chaudhry's house with barbed wire and told her "we will not allow you to go."

In defiance, Bhutto said she would sit in her car and wait, and asked someone in the nearby crowd to "bring me a barbed wire cutter."

Musharraf fired Chaudhry earlier this year during widespread protests, and he dismissed him again last Saturday when he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution.

Musharraf also ousted the rest of the Supreme Court shortly after the emergency declaration, and replaced them with his supporters. Judges have been detained in their homes, surrounded by soldiers, and the judicial system is in lockdown.

Bhutto wants to see Chaudhry reinstated, and irate lawyers have been at the forefront of many of the protests. Bhutto told CNN's Zain Verjee that she had not spoken with Musharraf for "seven days."

"I have not spoken to him since we decided to part ways with this public protest. But before we parted ways, I did speak to him. I did say to him when the election should be," said Bhutto, who was accused of corruption while prime minister. "The public mood is against any more contact with Gen. Musharraf."

The media blackout imposed on all independent news channels since November 3 has limited local broadcasts of the festering political crisis, although anyone with satellite service can receive some of the barred networks.

CNN and the BBC were back on the air Saturday.

Pakistani police pushed into a press building filled with protesting journalists in the northeastern city of Peshawar Saturday, and in Lahore police surrounded another press building, journalists inside told CNN.

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The United States and other foreign allies are pressuring Musharraf to end the state of emergency and set a date for parliamentary elections, which were originally slated for January.

Musharraf announced Thursday that the elections will be held by February 15 and restated his pledge to step down as the country's military leader. Before the emergency order, he was scheduled to be sworn in November 15 and had pledged to step down as military chief after that date. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohsin Naqvi, Elise Labott, Zain Verjee and Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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