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Agence France Presse

Pakistan's Khan To Face Anti-Terror Charges

AFP staff
President Pervez Musharraf &  Imran Khan

President Pervez Musharraf &  Imran Khan

LAHORE, Pakistan - Pakistani police arrested cricket legend Imran Khan and said he would be charged under anti-terrorism laws after he emerged from hiding to join a student protest Wednesday.

His detention came as former premier Benazir Bhutto hammered the phones from under house arrest in an attempt to forge a united opposition front against a state of emergency imposed by President Pervez Musharraf.

Appearing in public for the first time since he slipped out of detention last week, Khan was grabbed by Islamist students when he tried to take part in a rally at a university in Lahore.

He was lifted onto the shoulders of demonstrators but punches flew when he was seized by a crowd of radicals then pushed into a nearby building. He was later bundled into a white van and handed over to police.

"He will be charged under the anti-terrorism act," Lahore police chief Malik Mohammad Iqbal told AFP.

"Through his speeches he has been inciting people to pick up arms, he has been calling for civil disobedience, he was spreading hatred," Iqbal said.

Khan, who has founded a small but vocal opposition party, called for Musharraf to be hanged for treason after the military ruler imposed emergency rule on November 3.

He was being held in custody under a 90-day detention order, and police sources said he was being moved to prison shortly ahead of being formally charged.

"I came to the university to lead a rally of students against the dictator Musharraf and his illegal actions," Khan earlier told AFP by telephone from police custody as he was whisked away from the campus.

"I have achieved my purpose. I have started the student movement."

Khan's reappearance comes amid mounting domestic and international calls for Musharraf to lift the state of emergency ahead of crunch general elections due by January 9.

Around 150 Bhutto party activists and students rallied in the capital Islamabad, wearing black armbands, carrying flowers and chanting: "Musharraf is a dog!".

Bhutto remained under house arrest in Lahore to prevent her leading a mass procession against emergency rule, after earlier calling on Musharraf to quit and vowing never to serve under him in government.

A senior security official in Lahore said Bhutto's house arrest was likely to continue at least until Thursday. Hundreds of police were still outside her house, which is surrounded by barbed wire.

The two-time former premier, who heads Pakistan's biggest opposition group, has spoken to nine other leading political opponents of Musharraf in the past two days, a senior aide in her party told AFP.

They include cricketer Khan, exiled premier and former rival Nawaz Sharif, and hardline Islamists whom Bhutto has previously shunned.

Attempting to isolate Musharraf, they are hoping to get agreement for an all-parties conference later this month -- possibly as early as next week.

Musharraf however vowed Wednesday not to quit until the country's political turmoil was over, strongly defending his decision to impose a state of emergency.

In an interview with Britain's Sky News television, he reiterated general elections would be held under emergency rule.

"The day when there is no turmoil in Pakistan, I will step down," he said in brief excerpts released by Sky on its website. "I am not a dictator, I want a democracy."

Washington, which views Musharraf as a key ally in its "war on terror," is dispatching John Negroponte, the deputy to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to Islamabad this week to urge an end to the emergency.

US President George W. Bush called for a swift return to democracy.

"He understands the stakes of the war, and I do believe he understands the importance of democracy," Bush told the Fox Business Network.

Pakistan's election commission met on Wednesday to finalise the date of the vote, but a spokesman said there would be no announcement until after November 20.

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