Pakistani gov't urges candidates to avoid rallies amid fears of attack

Pakistan's government Tuesday urged candidates in upcoming elections to avoid large rallies, citing security risks following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto at a campaign event last month. President Pervez Musharraf has come under heavy criticism for alleged security lapses that allowed suspected Islamic militants to launch a gun-and-suicide-bomb attack on Bhutto as she left a rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi on December 27. "It is of paramount importance that the political leadership is sensitized about the looming threat and asked to adopt a security conscious approach," Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told reporters. "Big rallies should be avoided as much as possible." It was not immediately clear whether the candidates would heed the advice. Bhutto's slaying triggered riots that forced a six-week delay in the parliamentary polls, which are now scheduled for February 18. Large scale campaigning has yet to resume.