CNN : Bhutto visits blast victims

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bhutto visits blast victims

* Benazir Bhutto visits blast victims in her political stronghold
* Security guards encircled the former PM's car
* She said keeping her movements secret would help protect her
* Bhutto is expected to travel across the country ahead of elections

October 28, 2007

LARKANA, Pakistan (AP) -- Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto visited the families of people killed in a suicide bombing attempt on her life, touring a poor neighborhood Sunday in a visit kept secret until the last minute to protect her from another assassination bid.

Bhutto toured the city of Larkana, near her ancestral village, a day after beginning her first trip outside Karachi since the Oct. 18 assassination attempt there shattered a mass rally to welcome her home and left 145 people dead.

Security guards encircled the sports-utility vehicle that carried the two-time premier past hundreds of residents who squeezed into the narrow streets of the Ayoub Colony, a poor neighborhood, to welcome her. They showered her with rose petals, chanting "Prime Minister Benazir!"

Surrounded by about a dozen policemen and wearing her trademark white headscarf, Bhutto went to the home of Nizamuddin Sammo, a 22-year-old supporter who was killed in the blast, and met with his mother and two sisters, promising them financial assistance from her Pakistan People's Party.

She praised Sammo as a young man who "lost his life in the moment to save democracy ... He did not bow his head before dictatorship and terrorism. His sacrifice will not be in vain."

After the bombing, Bhutto had been largely confined to her residence in Karachi, but she has vowed to press on with her campaign for parliamentary elections, slated for January, and not be intimidated by the attempt on her life.

Bhutto said keeping her movements secret would help protect her.

"Obviously terrorism is a big issue, so my visit today was a surprise visit," she told reporters. "I found security in that because the terrorists cannot get you unless they know where you are going."

As Bhutto spoke, security forces were engaged in fierce battles with supporters of a pro-Taliban cleric in the northwestern region of Swat. She said the violence would spread unless decisive action was taken in restive tribal areas near the Afghan border.

"Tribal areas are becoming safe havens for militancy. It's moving into settled areas like Swat where several members of our paramilitary forces have lost their lives and I feel very sad that in the last years we were not able to address this problem and stop it from spreading," she said.

A rise in militancy in the northwest has shaken the authority of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S. war on terror, and the latest violence represents an escalation in tensions between his government and the rebels.

Bhutto has pledged to make stronger efforts against the militants.

Hundreds of supporters had greeted Bhutto Saturday in the village of Garhi Khuda Baksh, where she paid homage at her father's tomb. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was Pakistan's first popularly elected leader who was overthrown by the military and hanged in 1979.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan after an eight-year exile to contest parliamentary elections slated for January, hoping to win a third premiership.

She has said she will travel to other cities, starting with Lahore and Islamabad, and even to the tribal areas.