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Mourners converge on Bhutto's house ahead of meeting on election plans

Mourners converge on Bhutto's house ahead of meeting on election plans

Thousands of mourners converged Sunday on the ancestral home of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, shouting anti-government slogans ahead of a meeting to decide who should succeed her and whether to boycott parliamentary elections.
The party meeting comes as critics accuse the government of failing to properly investigate the gun and bomb attack that killed Bhutto on Thursday, plunging the nuclear-armed nation deeper into political crisis and triggering nationwide riots that have left at least 44 people dead.
Controversy remained about whether she was killed by gunshots, a shrapnel wound or the concussive force of the blast.
She was buried without an autopsy and the debate over her cause of death undermined confidence in the government and further angered her followers, many of whom believe elements within President Pervez Musharraf's administration played a role in the killing.
Police struggled to control the crowds in Bhutto's hometown of Naudero, many of whom had walked kilometers (miles) to get there.
They shouted "Musharraf is a killer!" and called for the separation of Bhutto's home province of Sindh from the rest of Pakistan.
"Benazir Bhutto sacrificed her life for the sake of this country and for democracy," her husband Asif Ali Zardari told mourners after they had thrown flowers at the mausoleum where she was buried. "But her blood will not be in vain ... Bhutto will remain alive in the hearts of people."
Inside her home, lawmakers from her Pakistan People's Party were preparing for critical talks.
Local media quoted unnamed sources as saying Bhutto's 19-year-old son Bilawal Zardari would be appointed her successor, extending one of Asia's greatest political dynasties. Bhutto's father _ Pakistan's first elected prime minister _ founded the party in 1967 and its electoral success since then has largely depended on the Bhutto name.
Other party members said Bhutto's husband, a key powerbroker who was freed in December 2004 after eight years in detention on graft charges, should take the job.
The party will also have to decide on whether to boycott the elections, planned for Jan. 8, or call for a delay to allow it to reorganize in the wake of Bhutto's death.
Pulling out of the vote altogether would destroy the credibility of polls seen by the U.S. and other Western nations as key to promoting stability in the country as it battles rising Islamic extremism.
There were no immediate reports of rioting early Sunday. Since Thursday, unrest has caused tens of millions of dollars of damage and the army was deployed to keep order in some cities. Rioters have destroyed 176 banks, 34 gas stations, 72 train cars, 18 rail stations, and hundreds of cars and shops, the government says.
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.
In fresh violence, two men blew themselves up Sunday close to the residence in eastern Pakistan of Ijazul Haq, the former religious affairs minister and 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.
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 Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander with links to al-Qaida, who heads a militant coalition based in its lawless tribal regions. The coalition is committed to fighting the government and its support of the U.S.-led war on terror. But his spokesmen denied the charge.
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.
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AP reporters Munir Ahmad in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-19 03:07 GMT+08:00