Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Blast may unite anti-extremist forces: Bhutto


Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto called for the US and Britain to help investigate a suicide bombing that killed 139 people as she made her first public appearance since the assassination attempt.

She warned that Taliban and al-Qaeda militants have gained ground in Pakistan but said Thursday's bombing could unite her and other forces opposed to extremism, including President General Pervez Musharraf.

"He's been the victim of assassination attacks and so have we," Bhutto told a small group of journalists on Sunday inside her heavily guarded Karachi residence. "I think certainly it will unite all those who are against extremism."

Bhutto's return from an eight-year exile follows negotiations with Musharraf that could bring the longtime rivals together after January elections and see the corruption charges against her vanish.

Bhutto, who is vying to become prime minister for a third time, has kept up her strong rhetoric against military rule and accuses elements within Musharraf's administration of plotting to kill her.

But that has been tempered by some conciliatory comments, suggesting that she views an alliance with Musharraf -- a key US ally in its war on terrorism -- as her political destiny, one with the backing of Western governments.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan on Thursday, but her jubilant greeting by more than 150,000 supporters was shattered by the bombing just before midnight.

Using a device laden with nuts, bolts and ball bearings, the attacker, who has yet to be identified, killed about 50 of her party's security detail, at least 18 police escorting her and scores of supporters and bystanders.

Three days after the carnage, the former prime minister swiftly popped out of her fortified home to visit some of the wounded at a Karachi hospital, then visited a shrine in one of the poorest quarters of the volatile city.

Hundreds of supporters chanted "Prime Minister Benazir!" as she left after the 15-minute hospital visit, guarded by armed police.

She also held prayers of mourning at her house with about 100 women, many of them widowed in Thursday's attack, while thousands of her supporters gathered for a prayer service elsewhere in Karachi. Some shouted for revenge but the cleric leading the prayers appealed for calm. Hundreds more gathered in Peshawar and Lahore.

Bhutto conceded she felt a little weary but appeared upbeat when she met reporters in a lounge adorned with photos of polo horses and a pencil sketch of her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who still lives abroad.

She said she had been lucky to escape injury in the attack as she was at the back of the interior of her armored truck when the bomb went off, but found her ear bleeding the morning after.

She urged Britain and the US to lend expertise for the investigation, and called for an independent inquiry into why many streetlights were not working when her convoy was inching its way through the darkness.

"We believe it was sabotage," she said.

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