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Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto assassinated

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Benazir Bhutto assassinated UPDATES

President Bush on Thursday denounced Bhutto's (the first woman PM in an Islamic state ) assassination

"The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy," Bush said, speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice."

Bush also praised Bhutto's bravery and called on the country to continue its move toward broader democracy.

"Mrs. Bhutto served her nation twice as prime minister and she 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.

"We stand with the people of Pakistan and their struggle against the force of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto's memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life."

Pakistani opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday at a political rally. The Washington Post reports...

Bhutto was shot at close range as she was leaving the rally in this garrison city south of Islamabad, aides said. Immediately after the shooting, a suicide bomber detonated explosives near Bhutto's car, killing at least 15 other people.

Bhutto was rushed to a hospital with extensive wounds to her torso, her supporters said. Shortly after she arrived at the hospital, an official came out of the building and told a crowd of supporters Bhutto was dead...

Bhutto's death is a devastating development, coming 12 days before Pakistanis are set to vote in national parliamentary elections already marked by enormous political turmoil. President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in November -- a move which he said was to combat terrorism, but which was widely perceived as an effort to stave off legal challenges to his authority. U.S. military officials said last week that the terrorist group al-Qaeda increasingly is focusing its efforts in Pakistan.

Father led Pakistan before being executed in 1979
Spent five years in prison
Served as PM from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996
Sacked twice by president on corruption charges
Formed alliance with rival ex-PM Nawaz Sharif in 2006
Ended self-imposed exile by returning to Pakistan in October
Educated at Harvard and Oxford

Riots broke out throughout the country, and in Karachi, the capital of Bhutto's home province of Sindh, people burned cars and looted shops and businesses. Pakistan Railways announced that it was closing the entire railway system, the television news channel Aaj TV reported.

Bhutto, 54, had been a leading contender for the post of prime minister, but was also campaigning for a return to party politics in the country after eight years of military rule under Musharraf, as a way to combat growing militancy and extremism in Pakistan.

"She was a brave lady and she was killed at the place where her father was assassinated," he said, referring to her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was executed after being deposed by a previous military government in Rawalpindi jail in 1979.

Bhutto, who was educated at Harvard University and then Oxford, was imprisoned and later went into exile after her father's death. She returned to Pakistan to tumultuous national enthusiasm in 1986 and was elected twice prime minister in the following years.

But her terms were chaotic and short-lived. Her government was twice dismissed and she was accused of corruption and mismanagement after her second term and left the country under a cloud of corruption charges.

She returned Oct. 18 of this year under a tentative agreement to share power with Musharraf. Her homecoming procession was attacked by two bomb blasts that killed 150 supporters and narrowly missed killing her. She accused the government of not providing sufficient security.

UPDATE: Who killed Bhutto: Islamic extremists? Their allies in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence? Or maybe people acting on Musharraf's behalf? The Times of London speculates...

Two militant warlords based in Pakistan's lawless northwestern areas, near the border with Afghanistan, had threatened to kill her on her return.

One was Baitullah Mehsud, a top commander fighting the Pakistani army in the tribal region of South Waziristan. He has close ties to al Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban.

The other was Haji Omar, the “amir” or leader of the Pakistani Taleban, who is also from South Waziristan and fought against the Soviets with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

After that attack Ms Bhutto revealed that she had received a letter signed by a person who claimed to be a friend of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden threatening to slaughter her like a goat.

She accused Pakistani authorities of not providing her with sufficient security and hinted that they may have been complicit in the bomb attack. Asif Ali Zardari, her husband, directly accused the ISI of being involved in that attempt on her life.

Mrs Bhutto stopped short of blaming the Government directly, saying that she had more to fear from unidentified members of a power structure that she described as allies of the “forces of militancy”.

Analysts say that President Musharraf himself is unlikely to have ordered her assassination, but that elements of the army and intelligence service would have stood to lose money and power if she had become Prime Minister.

The ISI, in particular, includes some Islamists who became radicalised while running the American-funded campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan and remained fiercely opposed to Ms Bhutto on principle.

Writer Amy Wilentz's piece is in the current issue, on sale now. In it, Bhutto discusses her planned return to Pakistan.

"Some of my friends think I’m mad to be going back," Bhutto said. "Even my relatives, because they don’t want to lose me. They’ve seen what happened to my brothers and my father. They keep telling me, ‘Think again!’ But it’s my country."

The story could not be timelier. Wilentz, who attended Harvard with Bhutto in the 1970s, notes that Bhutto seemed isolated. "I feel, as I’m leaving, that perhaps Bhutto’s life — for all the staff and assistants — is a little lonely. She asks if I can stay for dinner but I have a plane to catch.

"Her father is dead, her mother is ill, her brothers are dead, her husband is a liability and two of her children are in college."

Wilentz also discussed with Bhutto the dangers of returning to Pakistan. Why would she do it, given the risk of death?

Bhutto replied: "In the last election, my party took the largest number of votes, despite all the mudslinging that has taken place. I feel I owe a debt to the people to go back."

Bhutto's motivations for returning weren't just political. She longed for home, too.
Bhutto's Last Words
"I miss the scent of the rain when it falls on the dusty roads," she told Wilentz. "And the wheat crops in flower. I miss the people; I miss all of our rituals — visiting the graves of our forefathers."

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