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A supporter of Benazir Bhutto inspects a body after a suicide attack in Rawalpindi on Thrusday.
A supporter of Benazir Bhutto inspects a body after a suicide attack in Rawalpindi on Thrusday.  
• 20 PPP cadres killed in blast
• Blame pinned on Islamic militants
• Sharif to boycott polls

Rawalpindi, December 27:

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack today as she drove away from a campaign rally just minutes after addressing supporters in Rawalpindi. In the wake of her death a wave of violence erupted tonight, and it cast a reasonable doubt on the January 8 polls.

“She was inside the vehicle when some youths started chanting slogans in her favour,” said Sardar Qamar Hayyat, a leader of Bhutto’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party “I saw Bhutto emerging from the vehicle’s roof. Then I saw a thin, young man jumping toward her vehicle and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away. That was the time when I heard a blast and fell down,” he added.
At least 20 others were killed in the blast, a correspondant reported.
Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery.
A doctor said Bhutto had a bullet in the back of the neck that damaged her spinal cord before exiting from the side of her head. Another bullet pierced the back of her shoulder and came out through her chest. She was given an open heart massage, but the main cause of death was damage to her spinal cord, he said. President Pervez Musharraf blamed Islamic terrorists for the killing. He convened an emergency meeting of his senior staff, where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the election, an Interior Ministry official said. He also announced three days of mourning for Bhutto.
Next to Musharraf, Bhutto, 54, was the best known political figure in the country, serving two terms as prime minister between 1988 and 1996.
As news of her death spread, supporters at the hospital smashed glass doors and stoned cars. Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing him of complicity in her killing. In Karachi, shop owners closed their businesses as protesters set tires on fire on the roads and burned a gas station, said a local police official.
Violence also broke out in Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and other parts of Pakistan, where Bhutto’s supporters burned banks and state-run grocery stores. Some set fire to election offices for the ruling party, according to Pakistani media.
Akhtar Zamin, home minister for Sindh province, said authorities would deploy troops to stop violence if needed. Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and leader of a rival opposition party, rushed to the hospital and addressed the crowd. “Benazir Bhutto was also my sister. Don’t feel alone. I am with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers,” he said. Suspicion for the blast fell on resurgent Islamic militants linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban who hated Bhutto for her close ties to the US and her support for the war on terror.
Pakistan’s paramilitary and police forces were put on the highest “red alert” level.
Earlier in the day, pro-government supporters had a gunbattle with backers of opposition party politician Nawaz Sharif at a rally outside the capital, killing four people, police said. Sharif, later, vowed to boycott the polls.
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said in Kathmandu he was stunned by Bhutto’s tragic death. He has extended heartfelt condolences to Bhutto’s family and the PPP.

Gory or jinxed sub-continent?
Islamabad: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is one of a long series of political assassinations since 1947.

INDIA
• 1948 Mahatma Gandhi
• 1984 PM Indira Gandhi
• 1991 PM Rajiv Gandhi

PAKISTAN
• 1951 PM Liaqat Ali Khan
• PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto hanged
• 1988 President Zia killed in a bomb blast

SRI LANKA
• 1959 PM Salomon Dias Bandaranaike
• 1993 President Premadasa

BANGLADESH
• 1975 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
• 1981 Ziaur Rahman
— AFP

World leaders condemn it

President George Bush: The US strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy. Bhutto knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk. Yet she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country.

President Pervez Musharraf: This is the work of those terrorists with whom we are engaged in war. I have been saying that the nation faces the greatest threats from these terrorists. Today after this tragic incident, I want to express my firm resolve. I express my resolve that — and I also seek solidarity from the nation and cooperation and help — we will not rest until we eliminate these terrorists and root them out.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Bhutto was a woman of immense personal courage and bravery. She risked everything in her attempt to win democracy in Pakistan and she has been
assassinated by cowards afraid of democracy. Bhutto may have been killed by terrorists but the terrorists must not be allowed to kill democracy in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: Terming the assassination “a reminder of common
dangers” in the region, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he was “deeply shocked and horrified”. “The manner of her going is a reminder of the common dangers that our region faces from cowardly acts of terrorism and of the need to eradicate this dangerous threat,” he said. — Agencies

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