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Bhutto Assassination Sparks Chaos

Protests and violence occurred throughout Pakistan in the wake of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Bhutto was leading the Pakistan People's Party as it campaigned for the Jan. 8 national elections.
Rawalpindi, Pakistan

As she waved, three to five gunshots sounded, aides said. Bhutto sank back into her seat, just as a suicide bomber detonated explosives to the left of her vehicle. People inside the SUV said her face and neck were badly bloodied, apparently from the bullets. As blood poured from her wounds and pooled in the back seat, she lost consciousness, aides said, and never regained it.

The vehicle raced from the park toward Rawalpindi General Hospital, but it was too badly damaged from the blast to complete the journey; occupants had to hoist Bhutto into another vehicle as they desperately sought to get her medical care. At the hospital, a surgeon worked to save her, but she was declared dead on the operating table.

Thousands of supporters had gathered at the hospital by the time an official emerged to announce her death; the report triggered a roar of rage and grief.

Devastated supporters smashed the hospital's glass doors and stormed the building to try to view her body. As ambulances arrived with other casualties of the attack, the crowd tore down and burned campaign posters showing candidates from Musharraf's party. Yelling "Musharraf is a dog," they blamed him for Bhutto's death.

"Today there is no more Pakistan. The woman who has defended us has died," Sher Zaman said, as he beat his chest and tears streamed down his bearded face. "I'm 70 years old, but today I feel like an orphan."

Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, said by telephone: "It's a very difficult time for the nation of Pakistan and it's a difficult time for our family. She was a brave lady and she left a legacy of bravery."

The suicide blast killed at least 20 people outside the car and wounded many others. Police were investigating whether the bomber had first shot Bhutto. Several witnesses said they believed the assailant had fired the shots and then, after being tackled by security personnel, detonated the bomb.

Earlier Thursday, at another preelection rally in this city south of Islamabad, a rooftop sniper opened fire on supporters of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, leaving four people dead and at least five injured.

There was no indication that the two attacks were coordinated. Sharif's supporters, too, blamed Musharraf's political allies and accused them of using violence to avoid being on the wrong end of a landslide in next month's vote.

Sharif, who had been barred from running for office, announced after Bhutto's assassination that his party would boycott the elections.

That vote, if it proceeds, will determine who serves as prime minister alongside the president. Musharraf has already been elected to a new, five-year term, although the vote was marred by controversy. Musharraf was probably on the verge of being disqualified by the Supreme Court when he declared a state of emergency Nov. 3, suspended the constitution and fired most members of the court. Moderate opponents responded with days of street turmoil. Islamic extremists, meanwhile, stepped up armed attacks.

The Bush administration had played a key role in brokering the agreement between Musharraf and Bhutto that enabled her to return to the country Oct. 18. Officials in Washington had hoped that an alliance of the two moderate leaders might create a robust political force to counter rising extremism in the country.


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