Another Bhutto Eliminated
Benazir, 54, had just addressed an election rally at Liaquat Bagh (Garden) when a bomber shot her in the neck and blew himself up, killing at least 20 people and injuring scores of others. Hours later riots erupted across the country.
State media and Benazir’s Pakistan People’s Party confirmed her death in hospital. “The man first fired at Benazir’s vehicle. Then he blew himself up,” said police officer Mohammad Shahid.
“She was waving to the crowd from the sunroof of her car and then there was a blast,” Benazir’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar told state television. He added that doctors declared her dead at 5:25 p.m.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah strongly condemned the assassination and called on the Pakistani people to be firm in resisting any act of destabilizing the country.
“We convey our condolences to the bereaved family,” said the king’s statement. “Along with the people of Saudi Arabia, we express our condemnation of this horrendous crime committed by some wicked elements who are far removed from the values and moral principles of Islam and have transformed themselves into beasts to spill innocent blood and strive to enforce the law of the jungle. We are confident, God willing, that the brotherly people of Pakistan will cling to their religious faith and patience in the wake of this catastrophic event.”
The king also expressed his confidence in the people of Pakistan that they would stand united against any attempt to destabilize the county.
Benazir had been out campaigning for the national election, which is to take place in 13 days. A witness at the scene of the attack said he heard two shots moments before the blast. Another witness saw bodies and a mutilated human head strewn on a road outside the park.
People cried and hugged each other outside the hospital where Benazir died, many shouting anti-Musharraf slogans. Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari burst into tears while talking to Arab News from Dubai. “I am in no position to talk,” he said. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. Please pray for our children.” He later arrived in Islamabad.
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif vowed to fight Benazir’s war and said he shared the grief of “the entire nation.” “I assure you that I will fight your war from now on,” he told Benazir’s supporters, who were crying and wailing outside the hospital where she died.
“I don’t think anybody stands to gain or (will) look to gain. It’s a very serious situation for the country today,” Sharif told the BBC by telephone later, accusing the government of not doing enough to ensure her security.
President Pervez Musharraf blamed it on terrorists and called on the people for their support. “This cruelty is the work of those terrorists with whom we are fighting,” Musharraf said in a brief televised address.
“The biggest threat to Pakistan and this nation is from these terrorists,” he said. “I seek unity and support from the nation... we will not sit and rest until we get rid of these terrorists, root them out.”
He declared three days of national mourning.
Musharraf also chaired an emergency meeting with top officials “to consider all aspects of the tragic national incident.”
News of Benzair’s death brought a swift and angry reaction from supporters in Pakistan’s cities with thousands pouring onto the streets. The unrest was fiercest in Sindh province and its capital, Karachi, where fires were set, shots fired and stones thrown. At least three banks, a government office and a post office were set on fire, a witness said. Most shops and markets in the city were shut.
“Police in Sindh have been put on red alert,” said a senior police officer. “We have increased deployment and are patrolling in all the towns and cities, as there is trouble almost everywhere.” At least 20 vehicles were torched in the central Sindh town of Hyderabad and people were also on the streets of Larkana, Benazir’s ancestral home.
“The situation is not good in the interior of Sindh. A large number of people have come out on the roads in many cities to protest,” said senior police officer Fayyaz Leghari.
There were also small protests in Rawalpindi and the nearby capital, Islamabad. Protesters blocked roads with burning tires and chanted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir.
Police said they had been ordered to block main roads to stop the movement of protesters. Disturbances were also reported in the southeastern city of Multan. In the eastern city of Lahore, Benazir’s party workers burned three buses and damaged several other vehicles, police said.
In Jacobabad, hometown of Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro, the main court, banks and other buildings were set on fire. Mobs also torched several shops, including some belonging to Soomro’s relatives. Portraits of Soomro were also set on fire while demonstrators took to the streets, blocking roads and a railway track.
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but Benazir had accused elements in the intelligence services of trying to kill her. She also said she had received death threats from militant groups including Al-Qaeda.
Earlier yesterday gunmen opened fire killing four supporters of Sharif. The shooting occurred near an office of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid).
Sharif was several kilometers away from the shooting and was on his way to Rawalpindi after attending a rally. Sharif blamed supporters of the pro-Musharraf party for the violence but a spokesman for the party denied involvement.
“Somebody from inside the election office opened fire,” said senior police officer Shahid Nadeem Baloch. “But I can’t say they were Q people,” he said.
A spokesman for the pro-Musharraf party dismissed suggestions his workers were responsible. “None of our workers was involved. We strongly condemn this incident and we hope the law will take its course and the culprits are duly punished,” said the spokesman, Tariq Azim Khan.
World oil prices surged yesterday toward $97 per barrel on geopolitical jitters following the assassination, analysts said. News of Benazir’s death sent New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for February, to a one-month peak of $96.70 per barrel. The contract later stood at $96.36, up 39 cents from Wednesday’s close.
In London, Brent North Sea crude for February delivery reversed earlier losses to stand at $94.28 per barrel, which marked a gain of 34 cents.
The news “is helping prices ahead of the data,” said AG Edwards analyst Eric Wittenauer. Gold prices, meanwhile, surged to a one-month high of $830.41 per ounce. Gold and crude are widely regarded as safe investments in times of geopolitical uncertainty.
Tags: Bhutto , Killed , Pakistan , Pm , Musharraf
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