Bhutto visits survivors of attack in first outing

Suicide bombing killed 136 and wrecked former leader's return to Pakistan from exile.

October 21, 2007 13:15
3 minute read.
Bhutto visits survivors of attack in first outing

bhutto wave 224 88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto visited bomb blast victims on Sunday in her first public outing since a suicide attack killed at least 136 people and wrecked her jubilant return to Pakistan from exile. Bhutto spent about 15 minutes at Karachi's Jinnah Hospital. She visited survivors and distributed money to them while she vowed to fight for the rights of Pakistanis, according to Saimi Jamali, a senior doctor at the hospital. "Prime Minister Benazir!" chanted hundreds of supporters outside as Bhutto, who was guarded by armed police, left the hospital for the Pakistan People's Party stronghold of Lyari. Bowing her head in prayer, she visited the tomb of a Sufi saint in Lyari. A national day of mourning was being held Sunday for victims of the attack late Thursday, one of the deadliest in Pakistan's turbulent history. Thousands gathered in Karachi. Some shouted calls for revenge for the attack on Bhutto's convoy. "This was a tragic incident," said Muslim cleric Mufti Feroz Uddin, who led the prayers. "This memorial prayer is the best way to pay homage for the martyred." Morgue officials said 75 of the bodies have been buried, while another 29 remained unclaimed. Another 15 were so badly disfigured in the blast that they were unidentifiable, according to Anwar Kazmi, an official at Karachi's main morgue. Police continued to question three men in the blasts, while Bhutto's camp pressed for a full investigation into the attack. The men were linked to a vehicle that police believe was used by one of the attackers, who threw a grenade at Bhutto's convoy, a senior investigator said on condition of anonymity, due to the situation's sensitivity. Police detained the three late Saturday in the southern Punjab province - a center for militancy - and took them to Karachi, where the bombing occurred, for questioning. The senior investigator said police believed the men, who have not been charged, hold crucial clues to the bombing. Bhutto, who served twice as prime minister and is Pakistan's main opposition leader, left in 1999 to avoid arrest in corruption cases brought against her by the then-government of Nawaz Sharif, ousted by current President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in an October 1999 coup. However, Bhutto has held talks with Musharraf in recent months to discuss how to share power after parliamentary elections due in January. On Sunday, Bhutto's top aides went to a Karachi police station demanding the bombing be investigated to the fullest. The aides brought a statement, signed by Bhutto, asking that police "register the case and investigate so that the accused and their conspirators may be brought to book and punished according to the law." Police officials said the case had already been registered, but that the statement would be added to the file. However, the aides noted that police had not yet met with Bhutto to discuss the attack. The bombing turned Bhutto's jubilant homecoming parade into a scene of carnage. More than 200 were wounded in the attack. Authorities say the bombing bore the hallmarks of a warlord and the al-Qaida terror network. Bhutto blamed al-Qaida and Taliban militants for the assassination attempt - but also hinted that government or military officials could have been involved. "I think we should stop playing blame games. The government provided the best possible security to her," Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim told The Associated Press on Saturday. The list of people who could have targeted the pro-Western leader is long. Bhutto has blamed remnants of the regime of former military leader Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who hanged her father in 1979 after deposing him in a coup. Islamic extremists could also be bent on stopping a female political leader from modernizing Pakistan. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the attack was unlikely to delay January's elections, but that the government would be alert for future attacks. On Sunday, the independent newspaper The Nation called on officials to allow the vote to proceed on time. "Politicians in the ruling alliance who are not sure of winning their seats have tried to use the Karachi bombing as an excuse to put off the elections," it said in an editorial.

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