Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated - Riots in Pakistan

The assassination of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has triggered violent protests in several Pakistani cities, including Rawalpindi, the city where she was killed.

At least nine people have died in rioting throughout the nation. The Pakistani army was put on red alert as enraged protesters set fire to vehicles and attacked shops in Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere.

Bhutto, a prominent opposition leader, was assassinated Thursday as she was leaving a political rally, part of her campaign for parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8.

Police say a suicide bomber fired shots at Ms. Bhutto, then blew himself up seconds later, killing at least 20 other people.

Ms. Bhutto was in an armored car at the moment of the attack, but was exposed, standing up in the sunroof and waving to her supporters.

Bhutto was rushed to Rawalpindi General Hospital -- less than two miles from the bombing scene -- where doctors pronounced her dead. She was 54 years old.

Her funeral is planned for Friday in southern Sindh province, the Bhutto family's home.

President Pervez Musharraf has blamed terrorists for the assassination. He declared three days of mourning for Ms. Bhutto and called for calm.

A few hours before the fatal attack, VOA spoke with Ms. Bhutto, shortly after a meeting she had in the Pakistani capital with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The opposition leader said she and Mr. Karzai had agreed to work together to eliminate terrorism and extremism.

Pakistan's other principal opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, says his party (the Pakistan Muslim League) will boycott the elections. Mr. Sharif told VOA it is more important to save Pakistan than to hold the vote. He has also demanded that President Musharraf resign immediately.

Ms. Bhutto's husband flew home to Pakistan from Dubai Thursday. His wife's coffin was transferred to Larkana in southern Sindh province, where Ms. Bhutto will be buried next to her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Ms. Bhutto had returned to Pakistan in October after eight years in exile, and almost immediately was the target of another suicide attack - a double bombing aimed at her homecoming procession through Karachi that killed around 140 people.

For months, Ms. Bhutto had been in talks with President Musharraf about a possible power-sharing deal, strongly favored by the United States. But talks had stalled, and Ms. Bhutto was campaigning hard for the vote next month.

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