Thursday, December 27, 2007

Breaking: Benazir Bhutto Killed In Attack

Breaking: Benazir Bhutto Killed In Attack
Jane Roh

Outraged supporters of Benazir Bhutto have taken to the streets following confirmation that the Pakistani opposition leader was assassinated today.

Bhutto had just spoken at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, and was getting into a car when a gunman opened fire. The apparent assassin then blew himself up. There are conflicting reports on how she was killed. Some witnesses said she had been shot in the neck and chest, while a doctor at the hospital that treated her told the New York Times she had shrapnel wounds but would not confirm she had been directly shot.

At least 15 other people were also killed in the attack, according to various news reports. Bhutto, 54, had ended a self-imposed exile in October after reaching a power-sharing deal with President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf is wildly unpopular among Pakistan's Islamists and democratic reformists alike, but has been courted by Washington as a necessary ally in the war on terror.

"I found her to be a very, very brave woman with a clear vision for her own country [and] for Afghanistan," said Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who said he'd met with Bhutto earlier today. "We in Afghanistan condemn this cowardice and immense brutality in the strongest possible terms. She sacrificed her life for Pakistan and for the sake of this region."

Karzai has accused Musharraf of accomodating extremists and not clamping down hard enough on al-Qaida and Taliban fighters along their tumultuous shared border.

"Her murderers must be brought to justice and Pakistan must continue the path back to democracy and the rule of law," said Rudy Giuliani, the first presidential candidate to release a statement on the attack. "Her death is a reminder that terrorism anywhere -- whether in New York, London, Tel-Aviv or Rawalpindi -- is an enemy of freedom. We must redouble our efforts to win the terrorists’ war on us."

(President Bush made a brief statement condemning Bhutto's murder from his ranch in Crawford. We are waiting for the networks to air it.)

Bhutto had escaped an attempt on her life shortly after she returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18. That bombing, blamed on Islamic extremists, killed at least 126 and wounded 248.

Musharraf was accused of failing to provide sufficient security for Bhutto. The former prime minister, still incredibly popular in her Pakistan People's Party (PPP), had vowed on her return to protect her country from Islamic extremists and from Musharraf, whom she viewed as a dictator. The two engaged in a tug-of-war over when Musharraf would step down as head of the Pakistani military, which he finally did late last month but not before taking the extraordinary steps of suspending the constitution and imposing martial law.

Bhutto's assassination will undoubtedly exacerbate an already precarious situation in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister and fellow Musharraf foe, may step into the void in time for the coming elections, but it is not clear how Musharraf hangs on to power without yet more extraconstitutional measures.

Because Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country within reach of al-Qaida and the Taliban, the ripple effects of this crisis are potentially quite serious. India, also a nuclear power and a rival, has reason for immediate concern if Pakistan destabilizes further. News of her death sent investors running toward gold, a safe-haven commodity.

The White House, which was already agonizing over its relationship with Musharraf, cannot risk chaos in Islamabad and will have to consider direct intervention.

"We will have to devote a lot of effort to make sure things don't" worsen in the region, said Sen. John McCain, speaking to supporters at a campaign stop.

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, called for Bush to break with Musharraf once and for all.

"President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government," Richardson said. "It is in the interests of the U.S. that there be a democratic Pakistan that relentlessly hunts down terrorists. Musharraf has failed, and his attempts to cling to power are destabilizing his country. He must go."

The Politicker has compiled more candidates' reactions, while AP has statements from world leaders.

Source: Breaking: Benazir Bhutto Killed In Attack article in the The Gate

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