Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide attack that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally, aides said.
The death of the 54-year-old charismatic former prime minister threw the campaign for the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections into chaos and created fears of mass protests and violence across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.
The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, 8 miles south of Islamabad. She was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up, said Rehman Malik, Bhutto’s security adviser.
At least 20 others were killed in the attack.
Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery.
„At 6:16 p.m., she expired,” said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto’s party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital.
„The surgeons confirmed that she has been martyred,” Bhutto’s lawyer Babar Awan said. Bhutto’s supporters at the hospital exploded in anger, smashing the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit. Others burst into tears. One man with a flag of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party tied around his head was beating his chest.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But some of Bhutto’s supporters at the hospital began chanting, „Killer, Killer, Musharraf,” referring to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Bhutto’s main political opponent. A few began stoning cars outside.
Bhutto’s death will leave a void at the top of her party, the largest political group in the country, as it heads into the parliamentary elections. It also fueled fears that the crucial vote could descend into violence.
Pakistan is considered a vital U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists including the Taliban. Osama bin Laden and his inner circle are believed to be hiding in lawless northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.
The United States has for months been encouraging Musharraf to reach an accommodation with the opposition, particularly Bhutto, who was seen as having a wide base of support in Pakistan. Her party had been widely expected to do well in next month’s elections.
Bhutto had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct. 18. On the same day, she narrowly escaped injury when her homecoming parade in Karachi was targeted in a suicide attack that killed more than 140 people.
At the scene of Thursday’s bombing, an Associated Press reporter saw body parts and flesh scattered at the back gate of the Liaqat Bagh park, where Bhutto had spoken. He counted about 20 bodies, including police, and could see many other wounded people.
Party supporter Chaudry Mohammed Nazir said two gunshots rang out when Bhutto’s vehicle pulled into the main street. Then there was a big blast next to her car.
Police cordoned off the street with white and red tape, and rescuers rushed to put victims in ambulances as people wailed nearby.
The clothing of some victims was shredded and people put party flags over their bodies. Police caps and shoes littered the asphalt.
Hundreds of riot police had manned security checkpoints around the venue. It was Bhutto’s first public meeting in Rawalpindi since she came back to the country.
In November, Bhutto had also planned a rally in the city, but Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears.
In recent weeks, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted security forces in Rawalpindi, where Musharraf stays and the Pakistan army has its headquarters.
Ediţia de joi, 27 dec. 2007 a ziarului The New York Times
Benazir Bhutto 1953 – 2007
Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of a prime minister of Pakistan who held that post twice herself, died on Dec. 27, 2007 in a suicide attack on a political rally as she campaigned to hold that post a third time.
Ms. Bhutto, who was 54 at the time of her death, was a member of one of Pakistan’s most prominent families, albeit one touched by tragedy. Her father was ousted and hanged by the Pakistani military and two of her brothers died violent deaths.
Ms. Bhutto took over the leadership of her father’s party and became the first woman leader of an Islamic country when she was first elected prime minister in 1988 at the age of 35. She served a total of six years in office before being dismissed in 1996 amid widespread charges of corruption against herself and her husband. She took up residence in London.
In the summer of 2007, with the encouragement of Washington, she entered into power-sharing talks with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who had seized power in 1999 from Ms. Bhutto’s successor. But no deal was reached, and Ms. Bhutto returned to the country in October in an ambiguous position, not quite allied with General Musharraf and not quite opposed. When he imposed emergency rule in November, she waited several days before denouncing the move.
She was leading a rally for her Pakistan People’s Party in the parliamentary campaign she hoped would restore her to power early in 2008 when she was killed.
Mai multe fotografii.
Prime Minister of Pakistan
In the preceding decade of political struggle, Ms. Bhutto was arrested on numerous occasions; in all she spent nearly 6 years either in prison or under detention for her dedicated leadership of the then opposition Pakistan Peoples Party.
Throughout the years in opposition, she pledged to transform Pakistani society by focusing attention on programs for health, social welfare and education for the underprivileged.
Since assuming the office of Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto has emphasized the need to heal past wounds and to put an end to the divisions in Pakistani society – including reducing discrimination between men and women. Ms. Bhutto has launched a nationwide program of health and education reform.
Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi in 1953. After completing her early education in Pakistan, she attended Radcliffe College and Oxford University. As well as obtaining a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, she also completed a course in International Law and Diplomacy at Oxford.
Ms. Bhutto is the author of „Foreign Policy in Perspective” (1978) and her autobiography, „Daughter of Destiny” (1989). She received the Bruno Kreisky Award for Human Rights in 1988 and the Honorary Phi Beta Kappa Award from Radcliffe in 1989.
Benazir Bhutto is a woman of courage and conviction and we are proud to acknowledge her with the International Leadership Award.
Ms Bhutto had a volatile political career
Her two brothers also suffered violent deaths.
Like the Nehru-Gandhi family in India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan are one of the world’s most famous political dynasties. Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was prime minister of Pakistan in the early 1970s.
His government was one of the few in the 30 years following independence that was not run by the army.
Born in 1953 in the province of Sindh and educated at Harvard and Oxford, Ms Bhutto gained credibility from her father’s high profile, even though she was a reluctant convert to politics.
She was twice prime minister of Pakistan, from 1988 to 1990, and from 1993 to 1996.
On both occasions she was dismissed from office by the president for alleged corruption.
The dismissals typified her volatile political career, which was characterised by numerous peaks and troughs. At the height of her popularity – shortly after her first election – she was one of the most high-profile women leaders in the world.
Young and glamorous, she successfully portrayed herself as a refreshing contrast to the overwhelmingly male-dominated political establishment.
But after her second fall from power, her name came to be seen by some as synonymous with corruption and bad governance.
Asif Zardari has faced numerous corruption charges
The determination and stubbornness for which Ms Bhutto was renowned was first seen after her father was imprisoned and charged with murder by Gen Zia ul-Haq in 1977, following a military coup. Two years later he was executed.
Ms Bhutto was imprisoned just before her father’s death and spent most of her five-year jail term in solitary confinement. She described the conditions as extremely hard.
During stints out of prison for medical treatment, Ms Bhutto set up a Pakistan People’s Party office in London, and began a campaign against General Zia.
She returned to Pakistan in 1986, attracting huge crowds to political rallies.
After Gen Zia died in an explosion on board his aircraft in 1988, she became one of the first democratically elected female prime ministers in an Islamic country.
During both her stints in power, the role of Ms Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari, proved highly controversial.
He played a prominent role in both her administrations, and has been accused by various Pakistani governments of stealing millions of dollars from state coffers – charges he denies, as did Ms Bhutto herself.
Many commentators argued that the downfall of Ms Bhutto’s government was accelerated by the alleged greed of her husband.
None of about 18 corruption and criminal cases against Mr Zardari has been proved in court after 10 years. But he served at least eight years in jail.
He was freed on bail in 2004, amid accusations that the charges against him were weak and going nowhere.
Ms Bhutto also steadfastly denied all the corruption charges against her, which she said were politically motivated.
She faced corruption charges in at least five cases, all without a conviction, until amnestied in October 2007.
President Pervez Musharraf granted Ms Bhutto and others an amnesty
She was convicted in 1999 for failing to appear in court, but the Supreme Court later overturned that judgement.
Soon after the conviction, audiotapes of conversations between the judge and some top aides of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were discovered that showed that the judge had been under pressure to convict.
Ms Bhutto left Pakistan in 1999 to live abroad, but questions about her and her husband’s wealth continued to dog her.
She appealed against a conviction in the Swiss courts for money-laundering.
During her years outside Pakistan, Ms Bhutto lived with her three children in Dubai, where she was joined by her husband after he was freed in 2004.
She was a regular visitor to Western capitals, delivering lectures at universities and think-tanks and meeting government officials.
Ms Bhutto returned to Pakistan on 18 October 2007 after President Musharraf signed into law an ordinance granting her and others an amnesty from corruption charges.
Observers said the military regime saw her as a natural ally in its efforts to isolate religious forces and their surrogate militants.
She declined a government offer to let her party head the national government after the 2002 elections, in which the party received the largest number of votes.
In the months before her death, she had emerged again as a strong contender for power.
Some in Pakistan believe her secret talks with the military regime amounted to betrayal of democratic forces as these talks shored up President Musharraf’s grip on the country.
Others said such talks indicated that the military might at long last be getting over its decades-old mistrust of Ms Bhutto and her party, and interpreted it as a good omen for democracy.
Western powers saw in her a popular leader with liberal leanings who could bring much needed legitimacy to Mr Musharraf’s role in the „war against terror”.
Benazir Bhutto was the last remaining bearer of her late father’s political legacy.
Her brother, Murtaza – who was once expected to play the role of party leader – fled to the then-communist Afghanistan after his father’s fall.
From there, and various Middle Eastern capitals, he mounted a campaign against Pakistan’s military government with a militant group called al-Zulfikar.
He won elections from exile in 1993 and became a provincial legislator, returning home soon afterwards, only to be shot dead under mysterious circumstances in 1996.
Benazir’s other brother, Shahnawaz – also politically active but in less violent ways than Murtaza – was found dead in his French Riviera apartment in 1985.
Benazir Bhutto had been addressing rallies in many parts of Pakistan
Ms Bhutto – the first woman PM in an Islamic state – was leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi when a gunman shot her in the neck and set off a bomb.
At least 16 other people died in the attack and several more were injured.
President Pervez Musharraf condemned the killing and urged people to remain calm but angry protests have gripped cities across the country.
Security forces have been placed on a state of „red alert” nationwide.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack. Analysts believe Islamist militants to be the most likely group behind it.
Ms Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), had served as prime minister from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996, and had been campaigning ahead of elections due on 8 January.
Benazir Bhutto’s coffin has now been taken from the hospital
It was the second suicide attack against her in recent months and came amid a wave of bombings targeting security and government officials.
Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister and a political rival, announced his Muslim League party would boycott the elections.
He called on President Musharraf to resign, saying free and fair elections were not possible under his rule.
The United Nations Security Council has begun emergency consultations on the killing.
Ms Bhutto’s remains have been removed from Rawalpindi General Hospital in a van. They are reportedly being taken to the city’s airport.
Extremist groups have in their sights all those committed to democratic processes in Pakistan
UK foreign secretary
The attack occurred close to an entrance gate of the city park where Ms Bhutto had been speaking.
Police confirmed reports Ms Bhutto had been shot in the neck and chest before the gunman blew himself up.
She died at 1816 (1316 GMT), said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of the PPP who was at hospital.
Some supporters at the hospital wept while others broke into anger, throwing stones at cars and breaking windows.
Protests erupted in other cities as news of the assassination spread with unconfirmed reports of several deaths in clashes between demonstrators and security forces:
Mr Musharraf has announced three days of national mourning.
Protesters set vehicles on fire in the streets of Hyderabad
Mr Sharif said there had been a „serious lapse in security” by the government.
But an old friend of Ms Bhutto, Salman Tassir, told the BBC World Service he did not think criticism should be directed at the government.
„There have been suicide attacks on Gen Musharraf also,” he told Newshour.
„I mean it is extremism and the fanatics who are to blame.”
Earlier on Thursday, at least four people were killed ahead of an election rally Mr Sharif had been preparing to attend close to Rawalpindi.
Ms Bhutto’s death has plunged the PPP into confusion and raises questions about whether January elections will go ahead as planned, the BBC’s Barbara Plett in Islamabad says.
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
The killing was condemned by India, the US, the UK and others.
Ms Bhutto returned from self-imposed exile in October after years out of Pakistan where she had faced corruption charges.
Her return was the result of a power-sharing agreement with President Musharraf
He had granted an amnesty that covered the court cases she was facing.
But relations with Mr Musharraf soon broke down.
On the day of her arrival, she had led a motor cavalcade through the city of Karachi.
It was hit by a double suicide attack that left some 130 dead.
Rawalpindi, the nerve centre of Pakistan’s military, is seen as one of the country’s most secure cities.
It was only a matter of time before the darker forces… carried out this action
Many analysts say attacks like those on Thursday show the creeping „Talebanisation” of Pakistan.
Radical Muslims calling for Islamic law, and fiercely opposed to the US, have become increasingly active in Pakistani politics in recent years, analysts say.
THE ASSASSINATION OF BENAZIR BHUTTO
1. Benazir Bhutto had addressed a rally of thousands of supporters in Rawalpindi’s Liaqat Bagh Park
2. As her convoy was leaving the park via the rear gate onto Murree road, she was shot twice in the neck and chest
3. The gunman then blew himself up killing at least 16 people