Opposition leader Bhutto killed in Pakistan suicide attack

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a suicide attack in the city of Rawalpindi. Local police say a bomber first fired at Bhutto's vehicle. The bursts of gunfire were followed by a suspected suicide bombing.

Less than 2 weeks before the election in Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto came to the garrison city of Rawalpindi to address thousands of her supporters.

As she was leaving the rally, minutes after the speech, an attacker shot at her and then blew himself up killing more people around.

The 54-year-old died after being delivered to hospital.

Protests on the streets of Rawalpindi
Protests on the streets of Rawalpindi

Party spokesman Wasif Ali Khan, speaking at Rawalpindi General Hospital, said Bhutto died at 6.16pm local time.  

Police have clashed with thousands of Bhutto's supporters in the streets of Rawalpindi after her assassination.

Some of the city’s roads have been blocked by burning tyres, and protesters burned election posters of rival parties to that of Bhutto.

Her supporters were also reported to be smashing windows at the hospital and chanting slogans against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.  

Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Benazir's friend and adviser, says more assassinations may follow Benazir Bhutto's death.

“She was the only leader who was keeping the country together, because she has support in all provinces of the country. This is a doomsday scenario and nobody is going to gain anything out of it. Now I don’t rule out the possibility of civil war and more assassinations,” Wajid Shamsul Hasan said.

Meanwhile, clashes took place in several other Pakistani cities.

There are reports of injuries among demonstrators and burned down police vehicles.

The election, scheduled for January 8, is now likely to be postponed, according to Pakistani local journalist, Safdar Hamadani.

Reaction

The President of Pakistan said the terror act was work of terrorists and called on people for their support. Three days of mourning have been declared.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is going to hold an emergency session in the wake of Bhutto's assassination.

Leaders around the world were quick to condemn the killing, with some calling the attack a serious blow to democracy in the country.

Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to relatives of the blast's victims.

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned that the attack could lead to a new wave of terrorism.

“We hope that the Pakistani government will be able to take all the necessary measures and ensure stability in the country,” Mikhail Kamynin, the ministry’s spokesman, said.

First female leader of Pakistan

Bhutto was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan twice, and was the first female leader of a post-colonial Muslim state.

First voted in as Premier in 1988, she was sacked by the then-president on corruption charges in 1990.

Bhutto took power again in 1993 after her successor, Nawaz Sharif, was forced to resign after a row with the president.  

In the late 1990s she went into self-imposed exile in Dubai.

On October 19 this year, a suicide bomber killed nearly 150 people in an attack on Bhutto as she paraded through the city of Karachi on her return from the exile.

Leonid Shebarshin, the head of the Association of Foreign Intelligence Veterans, met Benazir Bhutto and her family when he worked in the region.

He said the killing of Bhutto “could cause more difficulties for the long-suffering country”.

“Her father was executed by the country's military dictator. Her brother was also killed, and now her. I met her for the last time in 1988 when she was Prime Minister. She was an outstanding politician and a charming woman,” Shebarshin said.

“Pakistan has been beset by tragedies since 1947. The reemergence of Benazir could have brought stability, but now I think there will be nothing good,” he said.

Oleg Dmitriev, a Russian journalist, met Benazir Bhutto in 1993, when she had just become Prime Minister.  

He said she wanted to get in touch with ordinary Pakistanis, and keep the military at arm's length.   

“She felt no anger about the fact that her father was murdered by Zia-ul-Haq,” he said.  

He thinks Bhutto was aware of the danger.