Ex-Pakistan PM Benazir assassinated
|Ex-Pakistan PM Benazir assassinated|
|Dec 28, 07 1:40am
|Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack today, just two months after the former premier returned from exile for a political comeback.Benazir, a two-time former prime minister, had just addressed a campaign rally for next month’s parliamentary elections when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the venue in Rawalpindi, killing her and at least 20 other people.
There were unconfirmed reports that the attacker had also opened fire on her with a weapon before the explosion. (Photo taken shortly before she was killed)
“It may have been pellets packed into the suicide bomber’s vest that hit her,” interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema told AFP.
“She has been martyred,” said party official Rehman Malik.
The Associated Press, citing Malik, reported that Benazir was shot in the neck and the chest before the gunman blew himself up.
Benazir was rushed to a hospital. But, at 6:16 pm Pakistan time, she was declared dead.
It was the second suicide attack at a Benazir event since she had returned from exile in October, aiming to contest the elections, and comes amid an unprecedented wave of violence in the country.
The deadliest terror attack in Pakistan’s history targetted her homecoming rally just hours after her return, leaving 139 people dead.
After that attack, authorities repeatedly warned her they had information that Islamic militants were trying to kill her.
Government officials said President Pervez Musharraf had been privately told of her death.
Her pledge for democracy
The killing will deepen the political crisis in Pakistan, where Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt the vote and Musharraf’s opponents – including Benazir – accused him of planning to rig the result.
There have been more than 40 suicide attacks in Pakistan this year that have left at least 770 people dead.
Benazir, educated at Oxford and Harvard, became the first female prime minister of a Muslim country when she took the helm in Pakistan in 1988. Her father, also a Pakistani prime minister, was also assassinated, in 1979.
Recalling how she stood at his grave, Benazir once wrote: “At that moment I pledged to myself that I would not rest until democracy had returned to Pakistan.”
She had repeatedly accused Musharraf of being dictator and had been campaigning with fierce criticisms of what she said was his autocratic rule, vowing her Pakistan People’s Party would deliver democracy.
Her killing was immediately condemned by the United States, which counts Pakistan as a pivotal ally in the US-led “war on terror”.
Protests across the country
Musharraf denounced what he called a terrorist attack and appealed for calm after angry backers of the slain former prime minister took to the streets across Pakistan, from the Himalayas to the southern coast.
The unrest was predictably fiercest in her native Sindh province and its capital, Karachi.
“Police in Sindh have been put on red alert,” said a senior police official. “We have increased deployment and are patrolling in all the towns and cities, as there is trouble almost everywhere.”
Reports said security was deteriorating in Karachi, where thousands poured on to the streets to protest. At least three banks, a government office and a post office were set on fire, a witness said.
Tyres were set on fire on many roads, and shooting and stone-throwing was reported in many places. Most shops and markets in the city shut down.