Profound Sadness, Mixed With Fury
Friday, December 28, 2007
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, Dec. 27 -- They arrived at the hospital by the dozens, based on nothing more than a whisper that their leader had been hurt.
As the rumors spread, there were soon hundreds bearing the red, black and green of the Pakistan People's Party. And by the time a hospital official stepped into the dark and smoky December air to announce that Benazir Bhutto had been killed, there were thousands.
The news provoked a guttural, desperate wail from the crowd that had gathered outside Rawalpindi General Hospital. Old men collapsed to the ground, sobbing. Women shrieked with pain.
Many did not want to believe it. They shouted to the heavens, "Long live Bhutto!" -- a refrain repeated by her most passionate followers almost since her birth.
Bhutto thrived on crowds, craving their embrace and deriving energy from their devotion. She brought hundreds of thousands to the streets when she returned from exile in 1986, a singularly triumphant moment in Pakistan's history that helped propel her to the prime ministership. Her latest return, in October, had also attracted massive crowds, but turned tragic when suicide bombers struck.
For the crowd gathered at the hospital Thursday night, her passing brought deep sadness, coupled with uncontrollable fury.
"Oh God, what has happened?" cried one woman. "We have all died today."
"Musharraf, go to hell!" chanted others.
"She was our sister, and she was our great leader," said Iktidar Ali, 52, who had been with Bhutto in Pakistan and in exile. "She was the voice of the oppressed people of Pakistan."
While some followers took to the streets, burning pro-Musharraf campaign posters and throwing bricks at passing cars, others tried to force their way into the hospital to say goodbye.
When hospital staff refused to let them in, the crowd smashed through the glass front doors. When they were blocked again at the entrance to the operating room -- where Bhutto's body lay -- they tried to do the same thing.
All the while, nurses attempted to navigate the hospital's narrow corridors with stretchers bearing the wounded and the dead, fellow victims of Thursday's attack. Bloodied bodies were carried amid hundreds of people who were chanting and screaming. The injured who were well enough joined in.