Bhutto assassination plunges Pakistan into turmoil

Thu Dec 27, 2007 6:55pm EST
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By Kamran Haider

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a suicide bomber on Thursday, plunging the nuclear-armed country into one of the worst crises in its 60-year history.

Her killing after an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi triggered a wave of violence, especially in her native Sindh province, and could lead to the postponement of January 8 polls meant to return Pakistan to civilian-led democracy.

Bhutto, 54, had hoped the huge popular following she enjoyed among the Pakistani poor would propel her to power for the third time as prime minister in an election meant to stabilize a country racked by Islamist violence.

But as she left the rally -- where she spoke of threats to her life -- she stood up to wave to supporters from the sun-roof of her bullet-proof vehicle. The attacker fired shots at her before blowing himself up, police and witnesses said.

She was pronounced dead in hospital in Rawalpindi, the home of the Pakistan army and the same city where her father, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in 1979 after being deposed by a military coup.

"It is the act of those who want Pakistan to disintegrate," said Farzana Raja, a senior official from Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. "They have finished the Bhutto family."

Across Pakistan -- a country used to political violence and ruled by the military for more than half of its life -- friends and foes alike were stunned by the death of a woman many had once criticized as a feudal leader buoyed by popular support while enjoying the riches of the family dynasty.

"I, like most Pakistanis, am still too numb with shock and grief to think coherently about what has happened or what the implications of this are for the country and for the world," wrote columnist Adil Najam in the popular Web site All Things Pakistan (   Continued...

<p>Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto arrives to address an election rally in Rawalpindi December 27, 2007. Bhutto was assassinated on Thursday as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi, putting January 8 polls in doubt and sparking anger in her native Sindh province. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed</p>