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Information Surfaces on Bhutto's Final Moments


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

It has been a day of grief and bloodshed in Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest. She was, of course, killed yesterday after a political rally in the city of Rawalpindi. Her motorcade was hit by gunfire and a suicide blast. Today, a huge crowd gathered for her funeral and the violent backlash caused by her assassination continued. Several dozen people have been killed in rioting. More details are emerging about how the former Prime Minister died and about who may have killed her.

NPR's Philip Reeves has been following the day's events from the city of Karachi.

(Soundbite of procession)

PHILIP REEVES: Benazir Bhutto always said her people loved her. Today, they proved she was right. Tens of thousands, perhaps more, joined the former prime minister's funeral procession from the southern province of Sindh. They were indeed her people. Loyal supporters from a region where Bhutto's family is treated like royalty. They came in tractors, in back of cars and buses and joined Bhutto's husband and three teenage children as they followed her coffin from the family's ancestral home to its vast marble mausoleum nearby.

Some wept. Some beat their heads and chests. Some yelled slogans against President Musharraf and the United States, blaming them for failing to protect Bhutto. Bhutto was buried alongside her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged in 1979 after being thrown out of power by a military coup. Her two brothers, both of whom died in mysterious circumstances, lie there too. TV footage of Bhutto's funeral was transmitted around the country. Among those who watched with a heavy heart was Yunis Gil(ph), proprietor of a baker shop in the city of Karachi.

Mr. YUNIS GIL (Bakery Owner): We are feeling sorry. She was the Pakistani hero, and all people like very much her.

REEVES: Pakistan's government has announced two separate inquiries into Bhutto's death.

Unidentified Man: Right now, you can see highlighting the point where a hand rises from the crowd and fires two to three shots aimed in the direction of Ms. Bhutto.

REEVES: The government released a videotape to the media, including Pakistan's Dawn TV. The Pakistani authority initially said Bhutto died from bullet wounds. Today, the interior minister, Hamid Nawaz, said the team of doctors who examined her have now concluded she wasn't shot. Nawaz said the finding was confirmed by x-rays.

Mr. HAMID NAWAZ (Interior Minister, Pakistan): X-ray doesn't show any bullet in the head. So it is this shrapnel or something irregular which has struck her on the right side. And it fractured her skull bone. And that has caused her death.

REEVES: Later, the interior ministry came up with another theory based on the videotape. Its spokesman, Javed Iqbal Cheema, said Bhutto died because her head smashed into a lever attached to her vehicle's sunroof. Cheema also says Pakistan's government knows who was behind the attack on Bhutto.

Mr. JAVED IQBAL CHEEMA (Spokesperson, Interior Ministry): We've just had an intelligence intercept that was recorded this morning in which Baitullah Mehsud has congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act.

REEVES: Baitullah Mehsud is a prominent militant leader in Pakistan's tribal belt with a long record of fighting the Pakistani military. Cheema accuses him of being from al-Qaida. As they try to figure out who killed Bhutto and how, the authorities have plenty else to worry about. All day, reports came in from different parts of Pakistan of sporadic violence set off by Bhutto's death. Trains and railway stations were smashed up in Sindh, Bhutto's home province. In several cities, rioters attacked banks and government buildings. Troops are tonight deployed in parts of Sindh with instructions to shoot to kill rioters.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

REEVES: Those were the scenes in Karachi a few months ago, when several hundred thousand of Bhutto's party supporters turned out to meet her on her return from self-imposed exile. Today, much of the city was locked up and deserted, though the occasional taxi raced nervously through the streets.

The city is silent and tensed. Every now and then, you pass a sign that says welcome, welcome Benazir Bhutto, a reminder of the euphoria in this city among her supporters that greeter her return just a few months ago. Those signs are still here on the streets.

Pakistanis are worrying about what will happen next. The government says parliamentary elections will go ahead on January the 8th. It's hard to be sure.

Mr. MANSU ALI KAKA(ph) (Social Worker): Nobody knows what will happen. Every person is afraid.

REEVES: Mansu Ali Kaka is a social worker from the city of Quetta. He hopes the government will stick to its plans despite the instability and violence.

Mr. KAKA: Most people of Pakistan want their election to (unintelligible). We love Pakistan. It's our country. But we want, you know, democracy in our country, Pakistan.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Karachi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.