Bush Condemns Bhutto Assassination

President Bush issues a statement from his Crawford ranch on the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Video by AP
By William Branigin and Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 27, 2007; 3:55 PM

The assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto drew widespread international condemnation today, with governments and political leaders denouncing it as a blow to democratic aspirations and calling for renewed efforts against extremists.

"The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy," President Bush said in a brief statement at his Crawford, Tex., ranch. He extended condolences to Bhutto's family, the families of other victims and the Pakistani people, and urged Pakistanis to keep working for democracy.

"Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice," Bush said. "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."

Bush said the United States stands "with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism," and he urged Pakistanis "to honor Benazir Bhutto's memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life."

He walked away without taking questions from reporters after delivering his somber statement.

Briefing reporters later in Crawford, White House spokesman Scott M. Stanzel said Bush had a "brief" telephone conversation this afternoon with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. No other details were immediately provided.

Earlier, Stanzel declined to say whether the White House supports postponing Pakistan's parliamentary elections, scheduled for Jan. 8. Bhutto had been campaigning for her Pakistan Peoples Party in the elections when she was killed.

"That is up to the Pakistanis," Stanzelsaid of any postponement. "Free and fair elections are an integral part of a democratic society, and we're in the opening hours of this tragedy, this assassination."

But a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said the elections should go forward without delay so as not to reward Bhutto's killers.

"I don't think it would do any justice to her memory to have an election postponed or canceled simply as a result of this tragic incident," Casey told reporters. "The only people that win through such a course of action are the people who perpetrated this attack."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has spoken with Bhutto's husband to offer the nation's condolences, Stanzel said.

Asked whether Bush believes that Musharraf did his utmost to protect Bhutto, the spokesman said Bhutto "returned to Pakistan knowing the risk that she faced." Nor would he answer directly when asked if Bush would urge the Pakistani president not to impose martial law.

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