12/28/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Violent anti Musharraf protests follow assassination of Benazir Bhutto

by Qaiser Felix
The body of the popular leader, killed yesterday in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi, arrived in her home town of Naudero, where she will be buried today in a funeral attended by thousands. Violent protests rocked the country overnight, against the government that many consider to be behind the murder claimed by al-Qaeda.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) –The body of Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistani op position killed yesterday in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi, arrived a few hours ago in her home town of Naudero (southern Pakistan), where it will be buried in a funeral attended by thousands who have been travelling since yesterday afternoon in order to attend the ceremony.

Accompanying the coffin, flown by helicopter, where Bhutto’s three children and her husband, who yesterday accused the government led by president Musharraf of being the real power behind the murder, claimed by al-Qaeda. The Sindh provincial government, which governs Naudero, has ordered police to shoot on “violent protesters”.

Meanwhile violent protests led by supporters of Bhutto and her People’s Party against police and government buildings continue.  Many Pakistani’s in fact believe that former general Musharraf was behind yesterday’s suicide attack which took place on the outskirts of Islamabad (a military stronghold), and which killed 20 people, wounding 46 others.

Overnight the country was rocked by clashes.  Many protesters burnt images and shouted slogans against the president, who has appealed for calm to “not give in to the extremists and their evil plans”, but he has so far avoided sending in riot police for fear of a fresh out break of violence. Despite this move 10 people have died so far in the clashes.

The country has decided to observe 3 days of National mourning and is now considering whether to go ahead with National elections set for January 8th.  The opposition led by Bhutto’s Peoples party and the Muslim League of ex Premier Nawaz Sharif, had been mulling over a boycott of the polls, given Musharraf’s enormous electoral influence.

Yesterday, Sharif confirmed that his formation will not participate in the vote: “We demand that the President step down immediately, if he wants to save Pakistan”. Even People’s Part candidates have asked for Musharraf’s resignation, and have said they favour a boycott.  The government has reiterated that the elections will take place as scheduled.

The daughter of deposed Pakistan prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (who was condemned to death and killed by general Zia in 1979), Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi on June 21 1953. At 35 she was elected Prime Minister in Pakistan: the first women to head the government in a Muslim country.

Loved in the West, and on friendly terms with the United States, the twice elected premier (1988-1990 and 1993-1996) and twice forced to step down due to corruption scandals which she consistently denied involvement, had returned to her home nation on October 18th after 8 years in exile in Dubai and London.

Her return had been overshadowed by criticism and accusations of corruption – eventually dropped due to lack of evidence – and also by the compromise deal she had reached with Musharraf’s regime in order to allow her return, which foresaw her re-election as prime minister and the removal of all charges against her, but not the release of the opposition party leaders who have been held in prison by the military government.

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