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Benazir Bhutto assassinated
Sheela Bhatt

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December 27, 2007 19:02 IST
Last Updated: December 27, 2007 22:25 IST

Former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto [Images] was assassinated on Thursday when a gunman opened fire at her vehicle just before a suicide bomber blew himself up at an election rally in Rawalpindi, killing more than 30 people and injuring about 60 others. Some accounts suggest the gunman and the suicide bomber was the same man; he opened fire before detonating explosives on his body.

Reports said five bullets were fired at Bhutto. The 54-year-old leader of the Pakistan People's Party was rushed to the Rawalpindi general hospital, where emergency surgery was performed. Doctors tried to revive her for almost 35 minutes before they pronounced her dead, the fourth member of her family after her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and her brothers Shah Nawaz and Murtaza to die of unnatural causes.

According to columnist Hamid Mir, "Benazir was shot at by a sniper rifle from close range and a few moments later a suicide bomber created the blast to make sure that she is assassinated. It was a determined effort. They made sure she doesn't survive the attack. She died due to the injury in her neck. I was told about it by injured party leader Ibne Rizvi before he went into a coma."

"She expired at 6:16 pm," said Wasif Ali Khan, a PPP member at the hospital.

She is survived by her husband Asif Ali Zardari and three children, a son and two daughters.

Shots rang out as the Harvard and Oxford-educated Bhutto was leaving the Liaquat Bagh Park at about 5 pm after addressing thousands of supporters of her Pakistan People's Party.

The suicide attacker, who was reportedly riding a motorcycle, then detonated his explosives, killing up to 30 people and injuring 60 others.

Several people, who were around her car, were blown to pieces. A television reporter at the scene said the suicide bomber's head was found almost 70 feet from the site of the blast.

Eyewitnesses said body parts were strewn across the area. Ambulances rushed the injured from the spot to nearby hospitals.

Liaquat Bagh Park is where Pakistan's first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in October 1951. Bhutto's father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in April 1979 at a spot not very far from where his daughter was killed.

"Yesterday," Mir said, "I had chatted with her. She was told many times that she carries as much risk as (Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf. On October 15, (army chief) General Ashraf Kayani and the director general ISI met her in Dubai. They clearly told her that there are forces determined to assassinate her. She thought they were trying to deter her from coming back to Pakistan. I found she was overconfident."

Added Mir, "Her partymen forced her to take risks. They were dragging her from one constituency to other. The threat to her life was so clearly understood by everybody. It was like the writing on the wall."

Hundreds of riot police had manned security checkpoints at the venue of the rally. It was Bhutto's first public meeting in Rawalpindi since she returned to the country.

In November, Bhutto had planned a rally in the city, but Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security reasons.

In recent weeks, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted security forces in Rawalpindi, a city near the capital Islamabad where Musharraf lives and the Pakistan army has its headquarters.

The anguish of Bhutto's supporters was evident from the protests outside the Rawalpindi general hospital. Protestors chanted 'Killer, Killer, Musharraf,' 'Dog, Musharraf, dog.' Some of them smashed the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit, others burst into tears. One man with a Pakistan People's Party flag tied around his head beat his chest.

PPP supporters in Karachi, Bhutto's hometown of Larkana, Lahore [Images], Hyderabad and Quetta, shouted slogans against the government and Musharraf. At many places, they burnt tyres, stoned cars, blocked roads and forced shops and business establishments to close.

Paramilitary Frontier Corps troops were deployed in Quetta to curb the protests as a high alert was sounded across Pakistan by the federal government.

President Musharraf convened a meeting of top advisors to take stock of the situation and declared a three-day State mourning.

Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after a eight-year self-imposed exile on October 18. She served twice as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996.

"We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment including jammers, but they paid no heed to our requests," one PPP leader said.

Nawaz Sharif, Bhutto's long-time political rival and another former prime minister, visited the hospital and sat silently next to her body, as her close aides former editor Sherry Rehman and Naheed Khan, who were injured in the attack, wept.

The Geo television channel showed her husband Asif Zardari, who had returned from Dubai to Islamabad on Thursday to be with Bhutto during her election campaign, weeping inconsolably.

Additional Reportage: PTI

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