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Pakistan's Former PM Benazir Bhutto Assassinated


Pakistan's Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Pakistan's former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday at a campaign rally just two weeks before parliamentary elections.

Police and aides say a suicide bomber fired gunshots at Ms. Bhutto just moments before blowing himself up, killing at least 20 others.

Ms. Bhutto died shortly after addressing a crowd of supporters in a park near Pakistan's army headquarters in Rawalpindi, outside the capital, Islamabad. She was rushed to a local hospital, but doctors were unable to save her. She was 54 years old.

The Pakistani army was put on red alert as grieving supporters set fires in several cities. Crowds gathered outside the hospital where she died, crying and chanting as news of her death was announced.

In an address to the nation, President Pervez Musharraf blamed terrorists for her assassination. He also announced three days of mourning for Ms. Bhutto and called for calm across Pakistan.

Hours before the attack, VOA spoke with Ms. Bhutto, who had just held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Pakistan. She said she and President Karzai had agreed they must work together to eliminate terrorism and extremism.

Ms. Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October after eight years in exile. She escaped injury in a double suicide attack during her homecoming procession in Karachi that killed around 140 people.

For months, Ms. Bhutto had been in talks with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for a possible power-sharing deal, strongly favored by the United States. But talks had stalled, and Ms. Bhutto was campaigning to run in general elections set for January eighth.

Ms. Bhutto also sought to join forces with another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whose opposition party is also running in the upcoming elections.

Hours before Ms. Bhutto's death, four people were killed by gunmen who opened fire on supporters of Mr. Sharif during a political rally near Rawalpindi.

Sharif supporters are blaming members of the party that backs President Musharraf for the violence. Mr. Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q party has denied those accusations.

Mr. Sharif is banned from seeking a seat himself due to past criminal convictions

ENDS

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