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Hundreds of thousands attend funeral for slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto

Hundreds of thousands attend funeral for slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto

Al-Qaida militants and the Taliban were behind the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a top official said Friday. Bhutto, a widely admired former prime minister, was buried in her ancestral home amid a raw outpouring of grief by hundreds of thousands of mourners.
Bhutto's assassination Thursday plunged the country deep into turmoil and ignited widespread violence. At least 23 people were killed, and the government sent military troops into the streets of several major cities to maintain order, security officials said.
Bhutto's furious supporters in other cities ransacked banks, waged shootouts with police and burned train stations in a frightening spasm of violence less than two weeks before a crucial election.
President Pervez Musharraf initially blamed her death on unnamed Islamic militants. However, Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz told The Associated Press that "we have the evidence that al-Qaida and the Taliban were behind the suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto."
He said investigators had resolved the case and would give details at a press conference later Friday. The combined suicide-gunfire attack on Bhutto _ which also killed 20 other people _ badly damaged plans to restore democracy in this nuclear-armed nation, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.
Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro said the government had no immediate plans to postpone Jan. 8 parliamentary elections, despite the growing chaos and a top opposition leader's decision to boycott the poll.
"Right now the elections stand where they were," he told a news conference. "We will consult all the political parties to take any decision about it."
Bhutto's mourners arrived in the town of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh by tractors, buses, cars and jeeps. Many crammed inside the mausoleum, and threw petals toward the ambulance. Women beat their heads and chests in grief.
"As long as the moon and sun are alive, so is the name of Bhutto," they chanted.
An Islamic cleric led mourners in prayers and Bhutto's son, Bilawal, and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, helped lift the coffin into the grave beside that of her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, also a popular former prime minister who met a violent death. Thousands of supporters then filed in to shovel dirt onto the grave.
Some mourners angrily blamed President Pervez Musharraf, the former army chief, for Bhutto's death, shouting "General, killer!" "Army, killer."
Others said they felt adrift and hollow.
"I don't know what will happen to the country now," said Nazakat Soomro, 32.
Bhutto's death left her party without a clear successor. Her husband, who was freed in December 2004 after eight years in detention on graft charges, is one contender to head the party although he lacks the cachet of a blood relative.
Bhutto's funeral procession began Friday afternoon at her ancestral residence in the southern town of Naudero. Her plain wood coffin, draped in the red, green and black flag of her Pakistan People's Party, was carried in a white ambulance toward the marble mausoleum, about five kilometers (three miles) away, passing a burning passenger train on the way.
Violence roared through much of the country Friday. A mob in Karachi looted at least three banks and set them on fire, and engaged in a shootout with police that left three officers wounded, police said.
About 7,000 people in the central city of Multan ransacked seven banks and a gas station and threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas. In the capital, Islamabad, about 100 protesters burned tires in a commercial quarter of the city.
Paramilitary rangers were given the authority to use live fire to stop rioters from damaging property in southern Pakistan, said Maj. Asad Ali, the rangers' spokesman.
"We have orders to shoot on sight," he said.
Army soldiers began patrolling the streets of Hyderabad and Karachi in an effort to quell the violence, witnesses said. In Hyderabad, the soldiers refused to let people out of their houses, witnesses said.
Ghulam Mohammed Mohtaram, home secretary for Sindh province, confirmed that the provincial government requested the army's help "to control the law and order situation" in several cities.
Earlier, angry mobs burned 10 railway stations and several trains across Bhutto's Sindh province, forcing the suspension of all train service between the city of Karachi and the eastern Punjab province, said Mir Mohammed Khaskheli, a senior railroad official.
The rioters uprooted one section of the track leading to the Indian border, he said.
An Associated Press reporter saw nine cars of a train completely burned. Witnesses said all the passengers were pulled out before the train was torched.
About 4,000 Bhutto supporters rallied in the northwestern city of Peshawar and several hundred ransacked the empty office of the main pro-Musharraf party, burning furniture and stationery.
Protesters shouted "Musharraf dog" and "Bhutto was alive yesterday, Bhutto is alive today." Dozens of police in riot gear followed the protesters but did not intervene.
Many cities were nearly deserted as businesses closed and public transportation came to a halt at the start of three days of national mourning for Bhutto.
A coalition of opposition parties called for a general strike, said Mohammed Usman Kakar, a leader in the All Parties Democratic Movement.
"What is clear is that Pakistan's political landscape will never be the same, having lost one of its finest daughters," read an editorial in the Dawn newspaper.
As many Pakistanis mourned, others demanded answers.
Musharraf blamed the attack on the resurgent Islamic militants Pakistan is fighting along the border region with Afghanistan, pledging in a nationally televised speech that "we will not rest until we eliminate these terrorists and root them out."
Bhutto was killed after a suicide attacker shot at her and then blew himself up as she left a rally in Rawalpindi, police and witnesses said. Authorities initially said she died from bullet wounds, but Dr. Mussadiq Khan, a surgeon who treated her, said Friday that she died from shrapnel that hit her on the right side of the skull.
Bhutto had no heart beat or pulse when she arrived at the hospital and doctors failed in their efforts to resuscitate her, he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said he saw the medical report, and it, too, said she died from a shrapnel wound and was not shot. "No bullet was found in her body," he said.
The cause for the discrepancy in the initial reports was not immediately clear.
Soomro, the prime minister, told the Cabinet on Friday that Bhutto's husband had not allowed doctors to perform an autopsy, according to a government statement.
In the wake of the killing, Nawaz Sharif, another former premier and leader of a rival opposition party, announced his party would boycott the elections.
"I am worried about the country, about the people. Nobody is secure, there is total insecurity," Sharif said.
Opposition politician and former cricket star Imran Khan blamed Musharraf for Bhutto's death, saying he did not give her proper security. Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, India, where he was on a private visit, he called on the president to resign and for an independent judicial probe into her death.
Next to Musharraf, Bhutto, 54, was the country's best known political figure, serving two terms as prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She was respected in the West for her liberal outlook and determination to combat Islamic extremism.
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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this story from Islamabad.


Updated : 2021-05-12 20:28 GMT+08:00