Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan erupts as blame game starts

Seen as a beacon for democracy, Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest today amid a country in turmoil. She had returned to Pakistan in the hope to lead the Pakistan Peoples' Party to victory in elections. But whilst she had strong support across the country, she also had many enemies. She had studied politics at Harvard and at Oxford, but she was ill prepared for the violent politics that followed her as she set foot in Pakistan last October. Within hours her convoy bus was targeted by suicide bombers. At least 150 were killed including 50 of her own security. She survived that attack but said she was determined to continue her fight for democracy. By November the country was under martial law as President Musharraf attempted to fight Islamic militancy. Many criticized his imposed state of emergency saying it was in order to protect his own tenuous position. But soon after he lifted the state of emergency, violence returned to the streets with several suicide bombings targeting politicians. Yesterday’s attack which killed 28 people sparked riots in many towns and cities across the country. Further deaths and injuries were reported as a result of clashes between police and demonstrators [BBC]. The real fear is that the elections proposed for January 8th may be cancelled and martial law may again be imposed by President Musharraf.

Many of the papers today ran with front pages devoted to yesterday’s events [UK papers / Pakistan papers]. The Sun ran with the headline “The day democracy died” while others showed one of the last photographs of Benazir Bhutto and the headline “Seconds from death”. Many have already criticized her lack of judgement in putting herself in harms way. On leaving yesterday’s rally she had been photographed standing through the sunroof of her Toyota Land Cruiser whilst waving at supporters who were cheering her. It was then that a "thin man" on a motorcycle, carrying an AK-47 rifle, fired two shots, one into Bhutto's neck, and she collapsed, falling down into the vehicle. Bhutto was rushed to Rawalpindi General Hospital where she died at 18:16 local time (13:16 GMT). The gunshot to the neck was reported as the cause of death, according to the Pakistani Interior Ministry [CNN].

An al-Qaeda leader based in Afghanistan was reported to have claimed responsibility for the attack and CNN has quoted an Italian news agancy as having reported a claim of responsibilty from al-Qaeda [CNN]. But others have laid the blame at the door of the Musharraf regime. E-mails from Bhutto herself, and only made public on CNN’s the “Situation Room” yesterday, stated that the police security was poor and that the government had not done enough to protect her. The attack has also unsettled world financial markets with oil prices rising to $97 per barrel [BBC]. But it is on the streets of Pakistan where the trouble lies at present. There were even scuffles reported at the funeral when Benazir Bhutto was finally laid to rest. She was buried in her hometown in Larkana, Sind, beside her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's grave.

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