Pakistan’s Bhutto assassinated

BREAKING NEWS
MSNBC News Services

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide bombing that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally.

The death of the charismatic former prime minister threw the campaign for the Jan. 8 election into chaos and created fears of mass protests and an eruption of violence across the volatile south Asian nation, which has nuclear weapons and a support base for Muslim extremists.

Pakistani troops were put on “red alert” across the country as President Pervez Musharraf blamed terrorists for Bhutto’s death and said he would redouble his efforts to fight them.

“I want to express my resolve and seek the cooperation from the entire nation and we will not rest until we eliminate these terrorists and root them out,” he said in a nationally televised speech. He announced three days of mourning for her across the country.

In the United States, President Bush demanded that those responsible be brought to justice, calling them “murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy.”

Bhutto’s supporters erupted in anger and grief after her death, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and wailed, chanting slogans against Musharraf.

“At 6:16 p.m. she expired,” said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto’s party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital where she was taken after the attack.

“She has been martyred,” added party official Rehman Malik. Bhutto was 54.

A party security adviser said Bhutto was shot in the neck and chest as she got into her vehicle, then the gunman blew himself up. No group has claimed responsibility.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene of the bombing could see body parts and flesh scattered at the back gate of the park where Bhutto had spoken. He counted about 20 bodies, including police, and could see many other wounded people.

The road outside was stained with blood. People screamed for ambulances. Others gave water to the wounded lying in the street.

The clothing of some of the victims was shredded and people put party flags over their bodies.

Security had been tight, with hundreds of riot police manning security checkpoints with metal detectors around what was Bhutto’s first campaign rally since returning from exile two months ago.

Bhutto had planned an earlier rally in the city, but Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears. In October, suicide bombers struck a parade celebrating Bhutto’s return, killing more than 140 people in the southern city of Karachi.

Musharraf mulling elections
Parties across the country were stepping up campaigning for the Jan. 8 elections after a Muslim holiday late last week and a holiday on Tuesday for the birthday of Pakistan’s founder and revered first leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Musharraf convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the elections, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Western allies had hoped the elections will restore stability in a nuclear-armed country vital to their battle against Islamist militancy. The three-way race had pitted Bhutto against the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and a party that backs Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup.

Sharif and Bhutto had talked of an alliance, and Sharif on Thursday spoke to Bhutto supporters outside the hospital, saying: “Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be with you to take the revenge for her death. Don’t feel alone. I am with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers.”

The elections are for provincial parliaments and for a National Assembly from which a prime minister and a government will be drawn. It was not clear if they would still be held on schedule.

In recent weeks, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted security forces in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital where Musharraf stays and the Pakistan army has its headquarters.

Before the rally, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, Bhutto had met with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the end of his two-day visit here.

“We too believe that it is essential for both of our countries, and indeed the larger Muslim world, to work to protect the interest of Islamic civilization by eliminating extremism and terrorism,” she said after their meeting.

AP Story from MSN.com

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