IHT : Bhutto visits supporters under heavy security

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bhutto visits supporters under heavy security

Reuters | October 28, 2007

LARKANA, Pakistan: Guarded by security personnel bristling with AK-47 and M-16 rifles, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Sunday visited the family of a supporter slain in the attempt to assassinate her Oct. 19.

But with security fears still high following the attack in Karachi that killed more than 130 people hours after she returned to Pakistan, ending eight years of self-imposed exile, it was an impromptu visit.

Bhutto traveled to the town of Larkana, a few kilometers from her ancestral village of Garhi Khuda Baksh, where she is staying, and also visited the families of two other supporters who died during her exile. Television footage showed trucks packed with heavily armed security guards parked outside one home she visited as fervent supporters danced and waved black, red and green flags of her Pakistan People's Party.

"Today I came to Larkana to see the families of martyrs. I promise we will not leave these families alone because their loved ones sacrificed their lives for the cause of democracy," Bhutto told reporters. Some supporters stood on rooftops, others lined the streets and threw rose petals.

On Saturday, around 4,000 supporters turned out to welcome Bhutto back to her native Sindh Province as she made her way overland from the city of Sukkur to Garhi Khuda Baksh in a bulletproof Toyota Land Cruiser.

Bhutto then prayed at the tomb of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first popularly elected prime minister - who was toppled by the military in 1977 and later hanged - and held a news conference at her family home.

But there was no large-scale public address out in the open due to fear that militants could make another assassination attempt. And she was also told not to host traditional open-house meetings for the public.

At least one suicide bomber attacked her convoy in Karachi on Oct. 19 as it travelled slowly through a crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters hours after she returned to Pakistan.
Fighting rages in Swat valley

Thousands of Pakistanis were fleeing a tense northwestern town and outlying villages Sunday amid fears of a showdown between the security forces and a Taliban-style movement, Reuters reported from Mingora, Pakistan.

The Swat Valley in North-West Frontier Province was the scene of a fierce battle between security forces and followers of a radical Muslim cleric Friday, after authorities sent more than 2,000 soldiers to counter growing militancy. At least 17 paramilitary soldiers and 4 civilians had been killed in a suspected suicide attack near the valley's main town of Mingora on Thursday.

Fighting flared Sunday in the village of Charbagh, around five kilometers, or three miles, west of Mingora, when suspected militants fired at paramilitary soldiers as they passed through the area. Helicopter gunships fired in retaliation, but there was no word on any casualties, a local official said.

Swat, a scenic valley close to Pakistan's lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, has seen a surge in militant activity since Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban cleric, reportedly launched an illegal FM radio station and urged a jihad, or Muslim holy war.