sexta-feira, 28 de dezembro de 2007

Bhutto Buried as Government Orders Virtual Lockdown

The government laid the blame for the combined shooting and suicide bomb attack on a militant with ties to Al Qaeda, and ordered the army deployed to Ms. Bhutto’s home province of Sindh, where the worst violence occurred, including parts of the city of Karachi, as the protests descended into criminality and banks were ransacked, train carriages and cars set on fire, and shops looted and burned.

The government ordered an almost complete shutdown of services to try to prevent the violence from spreading. Officials suspended train services between Karachi and the Punjab province to the east, and most domestic flights were canceled. Gas stations across the country were closed, making it virtually impossible to make a journey by car any great distance. Roads were closed around the city centers where trouble was anticipated, and television and Internet services were down or only sporadic in most cities. With many Bhutto supporters openly blaming the government for the assassination, the Interior Ministry made the surprising announcement that Ms. Bhutto had died not from gunshots or shrapnel but from a skull fracture when she was thrown by the force of the suicide attack and hit her head on a lever of the car sun roof. Two high-level inquiries are being conducted into her death: one headed by the senior judiciary and one by high-level police and intelligence officials, said Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

He identified a militant leader named Baitullah Mehsud, who holds sway in a tribal area near the Afghan border, as the chief suspect behind the attack on Ms. Bhutto, saying that the government had heard him claiming responsibility. “We have an intercept from this morning in which he congratulated his people for carrying out this act,” he said.

At Ms. Bhutto’s burial, grief-stricken supporters thronged the ambulance carrying her remains as it crawled through a haze of dust from her family home in Garhi Khuda Baksh, in southern Sindh province, to an imposing white marble mausoleum about three miles away.

Wailing mourners beat their heads and jostled to touch the coffin, draped in the red, green and black flag of the Peoples Party, which Ms. Bhutto had led for decades. They wept and threw rose petals as it was lowered into the grave beside her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was toppled and executed by a military dictator in the 1979.

Clad in a white Sindhi cap, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, wept as he helped lower the simple coffin into the grave. He was accompanied by the couple’s son, Bilawal, 19, and two daughters, Bakhtawar, 17, and Aseefa, 14, news reports said.

Even as Ms. Bhutto was laid to rest in the midst of a chaotic but peaceful crowd, there were grim signs of the violent outbursts that had erupted after her death. En route to the mausoleum, the coffin passed the smoldering wreckage of a passenger train that rioters had set alight, according to The Associated Press.

The militant the government identified as the chief suspect in the attack, Mr. Mehsud, has been blamed for most of a spate of suicide attacks on government, military and intelligence targets in recent months. Based in South Waziristan, he is known to run training camps, prepare and dispatch suicide bombers and have links to the Arab and Central Asian militants present in the tribal areas.

Brigadier Cheema said the attack on Ms. Bhutto was connected to several whose targets have included President Pervez Musharraf and several high-ranking government officials over the last few years, and to some of the more recent attacks on army and intelligence personnel.

“We have irrefutable evidence that Al Qaeda and its networks are trying to destabilize the government,” he said. “They have been systematically attacking our government,” he said, “and now a political icon.” Ms. Bhutto, he said, was on the hit list of Al Qaeda and other terrorists.

Saying he wanted to dispel first erroneous reports that Ms. Bhutto had died from gunfire, Brigadier Cheema gave an exhaustive description of the incident and showed a video on which Ms. Bhutto could be seen waving at the crowd from the sunroof of her car after the rally in Rawalpindi. But the camera lost focus in the pandemonium after it recorded the sound of three gunshots.

He said that Ms. Bhutto tried to duck down into the car just as the suicide bomber detonated his explosives, and the force of the blast caused her to strike her head.

“One of the levers of the sun roof hit her on the right side, which caused a fracture, and that is what caused her death,” Brigadier Cheema said. He said shrapnel from the blast hit the left side of the car, but her injury was on the right side of her head. The lever on the car showed traces of blood, he said. “There was no bullet that hit Mohtarma Bhutto, there was no splinter that hit Mohtarma Bhutto, and there was no pellet that hit her,” he said. It remained unclear if the suicide bomber had fired the shots or if a second person had, he said.

She was almost unconscious when brought to the hospital, he added. He said that Ms. Bhutto’s husband had not allowed an autopsy but that doctors conducted an external post-mortem and took X-rays.

The government’s effort to place responsibility for her assassination on Al Qaeda and militants linked to it may not be readily accepted by Ms. Bhutto’s supporters.

One Western official who met with Ms. Bhutto the day before her death on her campaign trail said that while she was concerned about the threat from militants, she was most preoccupied about restrictions on her campaign laid down by the government. She complained that in the city of Peshawar she had to hold her rally in a cricket stadium far away from the center of town under tight security, said the official, who asked not to be named because of security concerns. She was not allowed to lead a procession all the way to the stadium, and she complained that the crowd of some 2,000 supporters was small because of the restrictions.

Ms. Bhutto also complained that while the militants represented a threat, the government was as much a threat in its failure to ensure security. She suggested that either the government had a deal with the militants that allowed them to carry on their terrorist activities, or that President Musharraf’s approach at dealing with the problem of militancy was utterly ineffective.

Brigadier Cheema acknowledged as much. Asked why the government did not act against Mr. Mehsud, when he is known to be training suicide bombers, he said, “It is not that easy.”

Mr. Mehsud is always on the move and goes to ground very quickly after communicating with his people, so it is hard for the security forces to follow up on intercepts.

Rioting flared across Pakistan. Thousands of people took to the streets in the central city of Multan, ransacking banks and gas stations and throwing stones at the police, The Associated Press reported. In the generally peaceful capital, Islamabad, a crowd of about 100 protesters set fire to tires.

In Peshawar, an estimated 4,000 supporters of Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party chanted, “Bhutto was alive yesterday, Bhutto is alive today,” and cried, “Musharraf dog.”

The continuing violence caused many to question whether the government could continue with holding parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8.

Muhammad Mian Soomro, the caretaker prime minister, told reporters in Islamabad that the government would hold talks with all political parties to chart a plan of action, but that “right now, the elections stand as they were announced.”

Yet several leading politicians said they did not think the government could go ahead with elections so soon after what is being described as a national tragedy that has dismayed people across the political spectrum.

Another politician from the government party was killed in a suicide attack in Swat on Friday.

“Speaking on a personal level, there is no mood or inclination to have an election,” said Mushahid Hussain Sayed, secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party that backs President Musharraf and formed the government for the last five years. He said the elections could be postponed until March to allow people time to regroup. “Right now there is so much uncertainty.”

Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party has made no comment on their plans for elections yet. All the leaders of the party were present at her funeral Friday, including her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and they have declared they will observe the traditional 40 days of mourning. Yet the party could be expected to win an overwhelming sympathy vote, which could give it a majority in Parliament, analysts and politicians said. The government parties could also suffer in the polls from a backlash after the death of a national leader.

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