Thursday, October 18, 2007
Benazir Survives Suicide Attacks - Pakistan in Deep Trouble
Homecoming Benazir Bhutto survives bomb attack
News.com.au: October 19, 2007
FORMER Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto has survived an apparent assassination attempt after a car bomb detonated near the motorcade carrying her through the streets of Karachi today.
The bomb exploded as a modified truck carrying Bhutto drove along Airport Rd in Karachi where hundreds of thousands of supporters had turned out to welcome her back to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile.
At least 34 people were killed but unofficial reports claim 45 are dead.
Police and officials said Bhutto is safe.
"There was a huge car bomb very close to Benazir Bhutto's truck and 34 people were killed and over 50 injured," a senior police official said.
Interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema said: "There was a massive explosion in the procession and there are many casualties including policemen and PPP workers", a referrence to the Pakistan People's Party.
"Benazir Bhutto is safe."
More than 20 bodies lay on the ground and body parts were scattered around the scene close to a burning car, a Reuters correspondent said.
Bhutto was making an historic return to Pakistan after her years in exile and had earlier shrugged off police warnings she would be targeted for assassination by Al-Qaeda or Taliban militants, in revenge for her pledges to crack down on extremism in the nuclear-armed nation of 160 million people.
Hours before the blasts Bhutto sobbed as she descended from her plane in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, to launch a spectacular comeback bid for the second time in her storied political career.
The 54-year-old flew in from Dubai vowing to lead her party in elections aimed at restoring Pakistan to civilian rule, and avoided all talk of a mooted power-sharing deal with embattled military president Pervez Musharraf.
"It's a historic and very emotional moment for me, I am overwhelmed,'' said Bhutto, the first woman ever to lead an Islamic nation.
"I have learned a lot over the last 20 years but we are still fighting a dictatorship, we want to isolate extremists and build a better Pakistan,'' she said.
Bhutto fled Pakistan in 1999 to avoid corruption charges arising from her two previous terms in power, but they were quashed by key US ally Musharraf this month in a gesture of reconciliation.
Dressed in a traditional green tunic, white trousers and headscarf that matched the Pakistani flag, Bhutto wept as she paused on the last step from the aircraft before finally planting her foot on her home soil.
She kissed a Koran and raised her hands to the sky.
Bhutto later embarked on a procession atop a specially modified lorry, eschewing its bullet-proof screens and waving to supporters from her Pakistan People's Party as they chanted ``Long live Bhutto.''
After five hours her cavalcade had moved about two miles (1.6 kilometre) due to the weight of the crowd. Huge billboards with her picture lined the route from the airport to the mausoleum of Pakistan's founding father.
"Our great leader has come home. It's the first step to democracy,'' labourer Waqar Shah said as Bhutto's parade passed.
Pakistani police said more than 250,000 people had jammed the streets. Her loyalists put the teeming crowd, many of whom were dancing to a frenzy of pounding drums, at more than one million.
More than 20,000 police and troops, backed up by bomb squads with sniffer dogs, patrolled the road and snipers manned surrounding rooftops.
The two-time prime minister's brother was shot dead in Karachi in 1996 and her father was hanged in 1979 by military dictator Zia-ul-Haq.
The Oxford-educated Bhutto has pledged to contest general elections in January and win a third term in power, although she needs Musharraf's help to overturn a constitutional bar on premiers serving three times.
Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, has meanwhile sought to win over his fellow liberal after his own support plunged in recent months.
- With AFP and Reuters
Also See related items in Bloomberg story, Telegraph
at 5:04 PM