Pakistan president arrives in Belgium for Europe tour
BRUSSELS, January 21, 2008 - Pakistan's President Pervez Musharrafarrived in Brussels on Sunday at the start of a European tour that will alsotake him to Britain, France and Switzerland, a Pakistani embassy official said. Musharraf, whose visit comes during a deep political crisis at home, landedjust after 1430 GMT and was due to hold talks with members of the Pakistanicommunity Sunday, before beginning his official programme on Monday. The Pakistani head of state is scheduled to meet EU foreign policy JavierSolana and address the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, aswell as have talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Musharraf, in his first major trip abroad since the crisis began, also hastalks planned with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on cooperation intrade and defence matters. He is expected to face thorny questions over his commitment to fightingextremism after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and onPakistan's slow progress to democratic elections set for February 18. As Musharraf flew out to clear up "misperceptions" about his country,Pakistani officials uncovered bomb and poison plots aimed at causing massiveloss of life during the Shiite Muslim festival of Ashura. They also questioned a teenager allegedly linked to Bhutto's killing. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on its website that Spain's authoritieshad warned France, Portugal and Britain of the possibility of attacks duringMusharraf's eight-day trip. Small groups composed principally of Pakistanis were preparing to carry outattacks "imminently," the report cited Spanish intelligence agency sources assaying. Then on Saturday, the interior ministry said that Spanish police hadsmashed a suspected Islamist terror cell, arresting at least 14 people -- 12of them Pakistanis -- and finding bomb-making equipment in raids in Barcelona. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero praised theintelligence services for the overnight swoop but said not to jump toconclusions about those arrested. Despite this, Belgian authorities do not plan to boost security beyond thatwhich would be in place for a visit by any other head of state or government.