Violence, Accusations Soar in Wake of Bhutto Slaying The death toll from violence following the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto rises to more than three dozen. The government accuses a militant tribal leader, but others say this accusation is just to cover up the government's own failure to protect Bhutto.
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Violence, Accusations Soar in Wake of Bhutto Slaying

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Violence, Accusations Soar in Wake of Bhutto Slaying

Violence, Accusations Soar in Wake of Bhutto Slaying

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Political uncertainty, grief and violence continue in Pakistan today in the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Allegations are flying over who is behind her killing. The death toll caused by unrest following her death has risen to almost three dozen. And in Larkana, in the southern province of Sindh where Bhutto was buried on Friday, there are more chaotic scenes today.

NPR's Philip Reeves is following developments from the city of Karachi, and he joins us now.

Phil, welcome.


WERTHEIMER: Let's start with Larkana. What is happening there?

REEVES: Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister of Pakistan, has gone to the Bhutto family home where he's been greeted by a large, noisy, emotional crowd. Sharif and Bhutto had many intense conflicts over the years, particularly when Sharif's government pursued her over corruption charges. They both led the country's two most powerful opposition political parties. They didn't agree on strategy. They were rivals. Sharif has gone there so this is another precarious moment.

WERTHEIMER: The government has accused al-Qaida of killing Bhutto, in particular a tribal militant who's based in Waziristan. How have people reacted to this? Do they believe it?

REEVES: Well, that's right. Pakistan's interior ministry says that this was the work of a tribal militant leader called Baitullah Mehsud. He's from the Pakistani Taliban and leads a newly formed coalition of militants. Now to support their case, the ministry showed this transcript of a conversation after Bhutto's assassination, which it says is between Mehsud and his - and an Islamic cleric, in which they discussed her killing.

Mehsud's spokesman has today strongly denied that he was involved. And also the Pakistan People's Party, Bhutto's party, has questioned this. They say that the government is trying to divert attention away from what they see is, at the very least, was a failure to protect Bhutto, who was after all Musharraf's most powerful opponent.

WERTHEIMER: There's also a report today disputing the actual cause of Benazir Bhutto's death.

REEVES: Yes. Pakistan's interior ministry said yesterday that she died after the shockwaves from the suicide bomb caused her head to smash against a lever on the sunroof of her vehicle. That conflicted with an earlier official claims that she'd been shot.

Today, her party spokeswoman, Sherry Rehman, who was with Bhutto at the rally where she was assassinated, told Reuters news agency that this version of events was ludicrous. She said that Bhutto, in fact, had a bullet wound at the back of her head on the left side, and it came out the other side. And it was a very large wound.

WERTHEIMER: Phil, what is the latest news on the violence? Is it still going on?

REEVES: Yes, it is. We've heard somebody has opened fire in a motorcade of Bhutto's supporters, which was heading to the city of Karachi where I am. One man was killed there. In Rawalpindi where Bhutto was assassinated, there are reports that thousands of her supporters have been on the streets throwing stones and clashing with the police. In the last 48 hours or so, there have actually been hundreds of incidents - cars, trucks, gas stations being attacked and torched; fast food outlets, government offices.

And in Sindh province, Bhutto's heartland, 130 banks or so have been attacked. The army is on the streets of some cities, including this one. So far, though, there's scattered violence, although there's much of it, has not turned into full-scale violence.

WERTHEIMER: Phil, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Philip Reeves reporting from Karachi.

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