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Central & South Asia
Pakistan considers procession ban
Plan comes as a minister rejects Bhutto's demand for foreign help in attack probe.
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2007 12:04 GMT

Large rallies like the one that greeted Bhutto may be banned before the elections [AFP]

Pakistani authorities are considering a ban on political processions in the run-up to next year's general election after a bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, killed 139 people.

The move comes amid rejection by a senior member of the government of Pervez Musharraf of a call from Bhutto to allow foreign investigators to look into the attack.

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Aftab Sherpao, the interior minister, said foreign experts would not be brought into the probe into the attack in Karachi in the midst of a procession celebrating the return of Bhutto on Thursday from eight years in exile.

"I would categorically reject this," he said on Monday. "We are conducting the investigation in a very objective manner."

Bhutto, who escaped the blast because she had stepped into her armoured bus minutes before the bomb went off, has called for an independent inquiry, questioning why many streetlights were not working as her convoy proceeded.

She has also pointed out that the chief investigator is a police officer who had been present as her husband was allegedly tortured while in custody on corruption charges in 1999.

The slower the better


Musharraf has promised to conduct a thorough investigation into the bombing. Police are questioning three people but have yet to announce any breakthrough.

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"Perhaps Bhutto should have listened to Musharraf and delayed her return to Pakistan until the volatile security situation was better"

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The attack by at least one suspected suicide bomber has raised fears about security and stability in Pakistan and on Monday the deputy information minister said the government was proposing legislation to ban large political processions.

"We're proposing that big processions and rallies should be banned," Tariz Azim Khan said.

"Political meetings should be held at specific places so that they can be given proper security. People attending can be checked," he said, pointing out that no decision had yet been taken.

A politician's popularity in Pakistan is marked not just by the size of a crowd he or she draws but by the length of time a procession takes, with the slower the better.

Opposition parties are likely to oppose any attempt to limit their campaigning but political analysts said given the threat of bombers, parties had to think about their processions.

"Such rallies are quite pointless and merely invite danger," Ayaz Amir, a political columnist with the Dawn newspaper, said.

In video

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz speaks to Al Jazeera on the attack on Benazir Bhutto

Another analyst said a ban on processions wouldn't hurt parties.

"In this day and age of electronic media, we don't really need those old subcontinental-type million-man marches," Shafqat Mahmood, a former minister, said.
 
On Saturday, police released a photograph of the head of the suspected suicide bomber and offered a reward for anyone who could identify him.

The government has already said the violence will not derail the elections due to be held in January.

Source:
Agencies
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