-  Sunday 18 November 2018
 

Benazir Bhutto killed in suicide attack; supporters in uproar across Pakistan

 -  The Canadian Press

Dec 27 2007,RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed Thursday in a suicide attack as she drove away from a campaign rally attended by thousands of supporters, aides said.

The attacker struck shortly after Bhutto addressed the crowd in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. There were conflicting accounts over the sequence of events. Rehman Malik, Bhutto's security adviser, said Bhutto was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up.

Party supporter Chaudry Mohammed Nazir said that two gunshots rang out when Bhutto's vehicle pulled into the main street and then there was a big blast next to her car.

But Javed Iqbal Cheema, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told state-run Pakistan Television that Bhutto died when a suicide bomber struck her vehicle.

At least 20 others were killed in the blast, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery.

"At 6:16 p.m. she expired," said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

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.

Next to President Pervez Musharraf, Bhutto, 54, was the best known political figure in the country. She had served two terms as prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She was respected in the West for her liberal outlook and determination to combat the spread of Islamic extremism, a theme she returned to often in her campaign speeches.

Her death will leave a void at the top of her Pakistan People's party, the largest political group in the country.

As news of her death spread, supporters at the hospital in Rawalpindi smashed glass doors and stoned cars. Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing the president of complicity in her killing.

Angry supporters took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar as well other areas, chanting slogans against Musharraf. In Rawalpindi, the site of the attack, Bhutto's supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled from the scene.

In Karachi, shop owners quickly closed their businesses as supporters from Bhutto's party burned tires on the roads.

Shortly after Bhutto's death, Musharraf convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff, where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the election, an official at the Interior Ministry said.

Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister and leader of a rival opposition party, rushed to the hospital and addressed the crowd.

"Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be with you to take the revenge for her death," Sharif said. "Don't feel alone. I am with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers."

Senator Babar Awan, Bhutto's lawyer, said, "The surgeons confirmed that she has been martyred."

Bhutto's supporters at the hospital exploded in anger, smashing the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit. Others burst into tears. One man with a flag of Pakistan People's party tied around his head was beating his chest.

"I saw her with my own eyes sitting in a vehicle after addressing the rally. Then, I heard an explosion," said Tahir Mahmood, 55, as she sobbed. "I am in shock. I cannot believe that she is dead," he said.

Some at the hospital began chanting, "Killer, Killer, Musharraf," referring to Musharraf, Bhutto's main political opponent.

"We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment including jammers, but they paid no heed to our requests," Malik said.

In Washington, deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said: "Certainly, we condemn the attack on this rally. It demonstrates that there are still those in Pakistan who want to subvert reconciliation and efforts to advance democracy."

The United States has for months been encouraging Musharraf to reach some kind of political accommodation with the opposition, particular Bhutto, who is seen as having a wide base of support.

Bhutto had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct. 18. Her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker, killing more than 140 people. On that occasion she narrowly escaped injury.

Bhutto was killed just a few kilometres from the scene of her father's violent death 28 years earlier.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister and the founder of the party that his daughter would later lead, was executed by hanging in 1979 in Rawalpindi on charges of conspiracy to murder that supporters said was politically motivated by the then-military regime. His killing led to violent protests across the country.

As Bhutto addressed the rally Thursday, she was flanked by a massive picture of her father.

Minutes later, the area was awash in blood.

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

Police cordoned off the street with white and red tape, and rescue workers rushed to put victims in ambulances as people wailed nearby.

The clothing of some of the victims was shredded and people put party flags over their bodies. Police caps and shoes littered the asphalt.

On Thursday, hundreds of riot police had manned security checkpoints to guard the venue. It was Bhutto's first public meeting in Rawalpindi since she came back to the country.

In November, Bhutto had also planned a rally in the city, but Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears.

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.

Quotations from Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, assassinated Thursday in Rawalpindi:

"We have to modify our campaign to some extent because of the suicide bombings. We will continue to meet the public. We will not be deterred." - Shortly after narrowly escaping a suicide bombing in October on her return to Pakistan from an eight-year exile.

"I told him on my oath in his death cell, I would carry on his work." - Recalling a visit to her father, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, before his execution in 1979.

"The primary message of the visit and the talks will be that freedom has returned to Pakistan. It is not only a success for the people of Pakistan but for all those who believe in freedom." - Preparing for a visit to the United States in 1989, a few months after she first took office as prime minister.

"The voter has gotten more demanding. In 1988, the voters just wanted democracy. Our campaign was much more general then. Now we are more specific." - 1993 Associated Press interview on her ultimately successful bid for re-election. She had been ousted in 1990.

"I always said that I was innocent and a victim of a politically motivated trial." - Commenting in 2001 when her 1999 conviction on corruption charges was suspended and a new trial ordered.

"I haven't given myself away. I belong to myself and I always shall." - Vowing in 1987 that her arranged Islamic marriage to Karachi businessman Asif Ali Zardari would not upstage her political career.

"Democracy needs support and the best support for democracy comes from other democracies. Democratic nations should ... come together in an association designed to help each other and promote what is a universal value - democracy." - 1989 speech at Harvard University.

Source : The Canadian Press
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Other articles by reporter The Canadian Press




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