World News

White House calls for early end to Pakistan emergency

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - The White House called on Friday for Pakistan to end its state of emergency and urged all sides to refrain from violence as police barred opposition leader Benazir Bhutto from leaving her home in Islamabad for several hours.

“Free and fair elections require a lifting of the state of emergency,” said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

“We therefore continue to call for an early end to that state of emergency and the release of political party members and peaceful protesters who have been detained,” he told reporters in Texas, where President George W. Bush is staying at his ranch.

Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, was freed from house arrest late on Friday after police barred her for several hours from leaving her home in Islamabad to lead a rally against President Pervez Musharraf, who imposed emergency rule last weekend.

Officials said police barricades around Bhutto’s home were being taken down and the detention order against her had been withdrawn, but a spokeswoman for her party had no information about the detention being lifted.

The White House said it continued to push for Musharraf to give up his military position and hold elections.

“We’re going to hold him to his commitments, but more importantly I think the people of Pakistan will hold him to his commitments to have elections” and give up his military post, Johndroe said.

“We also continue to call on all sides to refrain from any violence and to work together to put Pakistan back on the path to democracy,” he said.

In Washington, the U.S. lawmaker who heads the House subcommittee that oversees foreign aid condemned the “effective house arrest” of Bhutto and said unless Musharraf changed course, the U.S. Congress would have to restructure U.S. aid to Pakistan.

Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, urged the Bush administration to suspend cash transfers to Pakistan until Musharraf stopped suppressing civil society.

“I call on the administration to suspend immediately cash transfers to Pakistan until President Musharraf ceases his violent crackdown,” Lowey said in a statement.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Caren Bohan in Crawford and Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by David Alexander