Thousands Pay Respects to Bhutto

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A multitude turns out for the funeral procession of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated Pakistani opposition leader. She was interred at the grave of her father. Onlookers were silent as the plain wood casket holding her body passed through Karachi, the city where she was born.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi just a few years after Pakistan became an independent state. Today, she was buried in her family's ancestral village outside that city. The mourners include her husband and three children. They also include thousands of political supporters. The former Pakistani prime minister was a leader of the opposition at the time of her assassination yesterday.

NPR's Philip Reeves is covering this story from Karachi, Pakistan. And Philip, what was the funeral like?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, Steve, we don't know exactly how many people converged on Benazir Bhutto's funeral today, but it appears to have been a multitude. Some reports talk of hundreds of thousands. They came in buses and tractors and cars to watch the funeral procession of Bhutto as she was taken from her family's ancestral home in southern Sindh to the nearby giant white marble family mausoleum where her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, another former prime minister and leader of Pakistan, was laid to rest after being hanged in 1979.

Bhutto was carried in a white ambulance and was lying in a plain wooden coffin draped in the party flag, the flag of the Pakistan Peoples Party that she led.

It seems that some of the scenes they were chaotic. The ambulance that she was traveling in was mobbed on occasions. It was noisy. But there were also, apparently, moments of - great touching - moments when it was extremely touching where people lined up in silence to pay their last respects to Benazir Bhutto.

INSKEEP: So that's the scene at the funeral. We're listening to NPR's Philip Reeves in Pakistan. This story is developing in many cities at once and we're going to check in with a couple of them, starting with Karachi where Philip is.

And Philip, what's the scene there?

REEVES: It's extremely strange. The last time I was here, Benazir Bhutto had just returned after eight years of self-imposed exile. The streets were jammed with her supporters. There were several hundred thousands of them. It was so crowded and noisy and frantic that you couldn't actually get through the throng in a car. You had to travel by motorbike.

Today, it's the exact opposite. There are no taxis running. The shops are all shuttered up. There are no buses. The streets are almost totally empty. There was, overnight, some violence. Some banks were attacked here and some shops have been attacked, and four people were killed including a policeman.

At the moment, there are reports of isolated pockets of unrest, but the city has an eerie calm over hanging it at this moment, and for the supporters of Benazir Bhutto, of course, grief, too.

INSKEEP: That mention of that earlier arrival in Pakistan, as a reminder, there was an attempt on her life then - a bombing - which means people knew there was a threat to her life. Is there a sense that this attack, this killing could have been prevented?

REEVES: Well, that is certainly the view of the supporters of Benazir Bhutto, who say that the security surrounding her, particularly in the aftermath of that very large suicide bombing on her arrival in which 140 people were killed, and which came very close to her convoy. They feel that the security was inadequate. There will be, of course, others though who say that if you, in this environment which is unstable and extremely heated politically, if you take to the streets and expose yourself to a crowd, then you are likely to run the risk - well, you do run the risk of attack.

INSKEEP: Philip, the other question, very briefly, is whether it's possible for Pakistan to hold its scheduled election early next month knowing that a major opposition leader is dead?

REEVES: There's lots of speculation that the elections might be postponed. At the moment, the government is saying that it intends to stick to the schedule, but it's going to talk to other party leaders. But there is violence around the country, actually, in a number of cities. And if that worsens, then, of course, that would be a factor that they have to bear in mind.

INSKEEP: And we'll continue listening for your reports. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Karachi, Pakistan. Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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Bhutto Assassination Sparks Violence in Pakistan

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Attack witness Farah Ispahani, member of Bhutto's media team, on 'The Bryant Park Project'

Updates from Pakistan

Read the latest developments in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

Benazir Bhutto waves from her car just seconds before being attacked.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto waves from her car just seconds before being attacked Thursday in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. John Moore/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption John Moore/Getty Images

Bhutto Campaigned Despite Risk of Attack

Benazir Bhutto had been warned by President Pervez Musharraf and others not to campaign so publicly, but she remained defiant. "I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger," she said Thursday. Read more about security at the rally and details of the attack.

Bhutto: A Brief Bio

  • Born June 21, 1953, into a wealthy landowning family in southern Pakistan
  • Daughter of a former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed in 1979 after being deposed in a military coup
  • Studied politics and government
  • Two-time prime minister
  • Left country in 1999 to avoid corruption charges
  • Eight years of self-imposed exile
  • Recent return was targeted by suicide bombing that killed more than 140 people
  • First woman to lead a modern Muslim nation
  • Hoped to lead pro-Western, democratic government against Islamic militants
  • Had talked with President Musharraf of a possible power-sharing deal
  • Brother Murtaza died in a gunbattle with police in Karachi in 1996
  • Youngest brother, Shahnawaz, died under mysterious circumstances in France a decade earlier

— from The Associated Press

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is seen with Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a me

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is seen with Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a meeting at an Islamabad hotel, Dec. 27. Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images

A History of Violence

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's death at the hands of an assassin is a tragic event but not a completely unexpected one. Life for Pakistani politicians is fraught with danger, and has been since its founding. Read on.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, President Pervez Musharraf's most powerful opponent, has thrown Pakistan into chaos just 12 days before elections.

Bhutto died after gunfire and a suicide bomb attack targeted her at a campaign rally outside the Pakistani capital on Thursday. As news of her death spread, angry supporters poured onto streets in several cities, burning tires and vehicles. The violence killed at least nine people and plunged efforts to restore democracy to the nuclear-armed U.S. ally into turmoil.

Bhutto gave a political speech Thursday in Rawalpindi to thousands of supporters in her campaign for the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. She was shot in the neck and chest as she stood in the sunroof of her vehicle to greet supporters while leaving the rally. A suicide bomber then blew himself up, killing 20 other people, witnesses said.

"Ms. Bhutto came back from a very comfortable life abroad. She came back to fight these forces of extremism," said a tearful and distraught Farah Ispahani, part of Bhutto's political team. "She came back for this country. She was a real daughter of the soil of Pakistan."

"I hope she's remembered as the greatest daughter this country has ever produced and the first woman prime minister ever elected in the Muslim world," Ispahani said through tears.

At the scene of the attack, the road was stained with blood and people screamed for ambulances. Others gave water to the wounded lying in the street, witnesses said.

Immediately after Bhutto was declared dead, supporters went on a rampage, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and chanted slogans against her political rival, President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf, who announced three days of mourning, urged calm.

"I want to appeal to the nation to remain peaceful and exercise restraint," he said.

Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister and leader of a rival opposition party, demanded Musharraf resign immediately and announced that his party would boycott the upcoming election, leading to speculation that the polls could be delayed or called off altogether.

Bhutto twice served as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996.

A suicide bomb exploded at a Bhutto rally on Oct. 18, after she returned to Pakistan after eight years in exile. More than 140 people were killed in that attack. Since her homecoming, Bhutto frequently had acknowledged the danger she faced.

At Thursday's rally, she reiterated those concerns.

"I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis," Bhutto said.

Following Thursday's attack, Bhutto's supporters at the hospital began chanting "Dog, Musharraf, dog," referring to her rival.

No one claimed responsibility for the assassination, but suspicion was likely to fall on resurgent Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban, who hated Bhutto for her close ties to the United States and support for the war on terrorism.

Rehman Malik, Bhutto's security adviser, said she was inside her vehicle at the time of the attack.

"Then I saw a thin, young man jumping toward her vehicle from the back and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away," he said.

Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery. She died about an hour after the attack.

President Bush offered his condolences to Bhutto's family and friends.

"We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto's memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life," he said.

For months, the United States has been encouraging Musharraf to reach some kind of political accommodation with his opponents, particularly Bhutto.

Musharraf convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the election, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press



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