12/28/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN – VATICAN

Pope prays for an end to the violence that followed Bhutto’s assassination

Benedict XVI sends a telegram of condolences as clashes between supporters of the former prime minister and police continue in the Asian country. Police shoot at people killing at least 20.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolences following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, whose remains were laid to rest today. At least 20 people have died in clashes between police and demonstrators.

This heavy toll is a far cry from the Pope’s prayers. In his message the Holy Father said he was praying in the hope that “further violence will be avoided and that every effort will be made to build a climate of respect and trust, which are so necessary if good order is to be maintained in society and if the country’s political institutions are to operate effectively.”

In the telegram, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Card Tarcisio Bertone, and sent to the chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, the Pope also expressed his “sentiments of deep sympathy and spiritual closeness” to the family of Ms Bhutto who was killed in such a “brutal terrorist attack.”

The funeral for the former Pakistani prime minister was held as expected in her family’s compound in Naudero, in the southern province of Sindh, where hundreds of thousands of people gathered to say farewell to the slain leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

The coffin, covered in the red-green-black flag of the party, was driven in a white ambulance through a dense crowd shouting ‘Benazir Lives’ over a distance of more than five kilometres. It was accompanied by her husband, Asif Zardari, and their three children as well as PPP leaders. The body was then placed inside the family mausoleum in the village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh beside that of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was killed in 1979.

Whilst the ceremony was taking place, violence continued across the country. A roadside bomb in the north-western district of Swat killed six people, including a candidate from President Pervez Musharraf’s ruling PML-Q party.

The situation is particularly tense in Sindh where at least 20 people, including a policeman, died in clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces.

Wielding sticks and brandishing firearms, angry demonstrators destroyed and set on fire hundreds of vehicles, accusing President Musharraf of being behind Bhutto’s death.

Security forces received orders this morning to shoot rioters on sight. And police opened fire on protesters in Sindh's Hyderabad city, wounding at least five people.

More than 400 inmates in three prisons in Thatta district were set free by hundreds of protesters who attacked and set the facilities on fire.

In the provincial capital Karachi, however, the situation was calmer Friday morning after demonstrators attacked and torched four police checkpoints and 180 vehicles. So far 40 people have been arrested.

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