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Suicide attackers strike as Bhutto's party mulls whether to boycott January elections

Suicide attackers strike as Bhutto's party mulls whether to boycott January elections

Suicide attackers tried to kill a leading Pakistani politician Sunday as members of Benazir Bhutto's political party prepared for critical meetings on whether to boycott Jan. 8 elections following her assassination.
The Pakistan People's Party meeting also was set to read Bhutto's last will and testament and consider her replacement as leader. Unnamed sources in some Pakistani media reported that her 19-year-old son Bilawal Zardai would be appointed her successor. A party spokesman declined comment on the reports.
The meeting comes amid disagreement between Bhutto's supporters and the government on whether a gunshot or bomb caused her death Thursday. Differing accounts have fueled conspiracy theories and public anger over the attack, which triggered nationwide riots and thrust the nuclear-armed country into deep political crisis.
The government rejected suggestions it should enlist foreign help in investigating Bhutto's killing in a suicide bomb and gun attack. The Islamic militant group blamed by officials for the attack denied any links to the killing, and Bhutto's aides accused the government of a cover-up.
A pullout by Bhutto's party could destroy the credibility of next month's poll, already being boycotted by Pakistan's other main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif.
Washington has pressured its ally, President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup eight years ago, to push ahead with the election to promote stability in the country and help it better fight rising violence by al-Qaida and Taliban militants.
Mass unrest among Bhutto's supporters since Thursday has left at least 44 people dead and tens of millions of dollars of damage. Rioters have destroyed 176 banks, 34 gas stations, 72 train cars, 18 rail stations, and hundreds of cars and shops.
They have also wrecked nine election offices _ along with the voter rolls and ballot boxes inside _ hampered the printing of ballot slips and the training of poll workers, the election commission said. The commission has called an emergency meeting for Monday.
Sunday's suicide attack was the first in Pakistan since Bhutto's killing.
Two suspected militants blew themselves up close to the residence in eastern Pakistan of Ijazul Haq, a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, said district police chief Zafar Abbas Bukhari. Both men died, but there were no other casualties.
Police said Haq was the target of the attack, but was not home at the time.
Haq was minister for religious affairs in July when the government launched a military operation against a militant-linked mosque in Islamabad, killing over 100 people. He is reportedly on a militant hit list.
Meanwhile, uncertainty intensified over the circumstances of Bhutto's assassination, which occurred as she waved to supporters from the sunroof of her armored vehicle outside a campaign rally.
Video footage shows a man shooting at her three times from close range seconds before her car is caught up in an explosion from a suicide attacker.
Authorities initially said she died from bullet wounds, but Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema later said Bhutto was killed when shockwaves from the bomb smashed her head into the sunroof.
Bhutto's spokeswoman Sherry Rehman said, "We saw a bullet wound in the back of her neck. What the government is saying is actually dangerous and nonsensical."
The government blamed the attack on the Tehrik-i-Taliban, a newly formed coalition of Islamic militants led by Baitullah Mehsud along the Afghan border believed linked to al-Qaida and committed to fighting the government.
But Mehsud spokesman Maulana Mohammed Umer said "We strongly deny it. Baitullah Mehsud is not involved in the killing of Benazir Bhutto."
A spokesman for Bhutto's party, Farhatullah Babar, said the government's accusations appeared to be "a planted story, an incorrect story, because they want to divert the attention."
Cheema said Bhutto's party was free to exhume her body to conduct an autopsy, but rejected calls for an international investigation. An independent domestic judicial investigation should be completed within seven days of the appointment of its presiding judge, he said.
However, a senior U.S. official said that Pakistan was quietly "discussing with other governments as to how best the investigation can be handled."
Discussions with the U.S. "are about what we can offer and what the Pakistanis want. Having some help to make sure international questions are answered is definitely an option," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no agreement had yet come from the discussions.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that an international probe was vital because there was "no reason to trust the Pakistani government," while others called for a U.N. investigation.
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AP reporters Zarar Khan in Larkana, Sadaqat Jan and Munir Ahmad in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Afzal Nadeem and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-01-18 05:47 GMT+08:00