Bhutto Assassinated in Attack on Rally

2007-12-29

Richard Moore

Original source URL:
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/122707Q.shtml
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/28/world/asia/28pakistan.html

December 28, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated in Attack on Rally
By SALMAN MASOOD and GRAHAM BOWLEY

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan ‹ The Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was 
assassinated near the capital, Islamabad, on Thursday. Witnesses said Ms. 
Bhutto, who was appearing at a political rally, was fired upon by a gunman at 
close range, quickly followed by a blast that the government said was caused by 
a suicide attacker.

Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan, was declared dead by doctors at
a hospital in Rawalpindi at 6:16 p.m. At least a dozen more people were killed 
in the attack.

Dr. Abbas Hayat, professor of pathology at Rawalpindi General Hospital where Ms.
Bhutto was taken, said doctors tried to revive her for 35 minutes, but that she 
had shrapnel wounds and head injuries and was in heart failure. He said he could
not confirm whether she had bullet injuries.

A close aide to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf blamed Islamic militants 
for the assassination, and said it was carried out by a suicide bomber. Ms. 
Bhutto¹s death is the latest blow to Pakistan¹s treacherous political situation,
and leaves her party leaderless in the short term and unable to effectively 
compete in hotly contested parliamentary elections that are two weeks away, 
according to Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading Pakistani political and military 
analyst.

The assassination also adds to the enormous pressure on the Bush administration 
over Pakistan, which has sunk billions in aid into the country without 
accomplishing its main goals of finding Osama bin Laden or ending the activities
of Islamic militants and Taliban in border areas with Afghanistan.

Hundreds of supporters had gathered at the political rally, which was being held
at Liaqut Bagh, a park that is a common venue for rallies and speeches, in 
Rawalpindi.

Amid the confusion after the explosion, the site was littered with pools of 
blood. Shoes and caps of party workers were lying on the asphalt, and shards of 
glass were strewn about the ground. Pakistani television cameras captured images
of ambulances pushing through crowds of dazed and injured people at the scene of
the assassination.

CNN reported that witnesses at the scene described the assassin as opening fire 
on Ms. Bhutto and her entourage, hitting her at least once in the neck and once 
in the chest, before blowing himself up.

Farah Ispahani, a party official from Ms. Bhutto¹s party, said: ³It is too soon 
to confirm the number of dead from the party¹s side. Private television channels
are reporting twenty dead.² Television channels were also quoting police sources
as saying that at least 14 people were dead.

At the hospital where Ms. Bhutto was taken, a large number of police began to 
cordon off the area as angry party workers smashed windows. Many protesters 
shouted ³Musharraf Dog². One man was crying hysterically, saying, ³O my sister 
has been killed.² Amid the crowd, dozens of people beat their chests, and 
chanted slogans against Mr. Musharraf.

Nahid Khan, a close aide to Ms. Bhutto, was crying with swollen eyes in a room 
next to the operating theater, and the corridors of the hospital swarmed with 
mourners.

Ms. Bhutto had been warned by the government before her return to Pakistan that 
she faced threats to her security. In October, Ms. Bhutto survived another 
deadly suicide attack in the southern city of Karachi on the day she returned 
from years of self-imposed exile abroad to contest the parliamentary elections. 
Ms. Bhutto blamed extremist Islamic groups who she said wanted to take over the 
country for that attack, which narrowly missed her but killed 134 people.

The assassination comes just days after Mr. Musharraf lifted a state of 
emergency in the country, which he had used to suspend the Constitution and 
arrest thousands of political opponents, and which he said he had imposed in 
part because of terrorist threats by extremists in Pakistan.

With frustration in Washington growing over Mr. Musharraf¹s shortcomings, and 
his delays in returning the country to civilian rule, Ms. Bhutto had become an 
appealing solution. She was openly critical of Mr. Musharraf¹s ineffectiveness 
at dealing with Islamic militants and welcomed American involvement, unlike 
another Musharraf rival and former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Bush administration officials began working behind the scenes over the summer to
help Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf create a power-sharing deal to orchestrate a 
transition to democracy that would leave Mr. Musharraf in the presidency, while 
not making a mockery of President Bush¹s attempts to push democracy in the 
Muslim world.

Ms. Bhutto¹s assassination immediately raised questions about whether the 
parliamentary elections scheduled for January will now go ahead or be postponed.
Mr. Musharraf was carrying out an emergency meeting with top government 
officials Thursday following Ms. Bhutto¹s death, the aide to Mr. Musharraf said.
He said no decision had been made on whether to delay the national elections.

The aide dismissed complaints from members of Ms. Bhutto¹s party that the 
government failed to provide adequate security for Ms. Bhutto. Ms. Bhutto 
herself had complained that the government¹s security measures for her Karachi 
parade were inadequate. The government maintained that she ignored their 
warnings against such public gatherings and that holding them placed herself and
her followers in unnecessary danger.

Asked of the bombing was planned in the country¹s lawless tribal areas ‹ where 
Mr. bin Laden and other Qaeda members are thought to be hiding ‹ the aide said 
³must be, must be.² Militants based in the country¹s tribal areas have carried 
out a record number of suicide bombings in Pakistani this year.

Ms. Bhutto, 54, returned to Pakistan this year to present herself as the answer 
to the nation¹s troubles: a tribune of democracy in a state that has been under 
military rule for eight years, and the leader of the country¹s largest 
opposition political party, founded by her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, one of 
Pakistan¹s most flamboyant and democratically inclined prime ministers.

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Graham Bowley and David 
Rohde from New York.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
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