IOL (Zambia) : Bhutto visits bomb blast victims

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bhutto visits bomb blast victims

October 28, 2007

Larkana, Pakistan - Benazir Bhutto visited victims of the devastating October 18 suicide blasts on Sunday, as the former Pakistan premier kept up a tightly secured trip to her ancestral home.

Bhutto also vowed to step up the fight against militants blamed for the twin attacks in Karachi on her homecoming parade, saying she feared extremism was gathering force in areas of the military-ruled nation.

"I am very concerned about what is happening in my country. I always believed that dictatorship fuels militancy and extremism," Bhutto, a two-time premier, told reporters late Sunday.

"I feel sad that for the last five years we were not able to address this problem and to stop this from spreading."

Security guards armed with machine guns surrounded Bhutto as she toured her family district in southern rural Pakistan, her first trip outside of Karachi since the bombings that targeted the two-time premier and killed 139 people.

Bhutto, the first female leader of an Islamic nation, made a jubilant return Saturday to Larkana district, thousands of supporters cheering her arrival in a bullet-proof jeep overland from Sukkur city where she flew in from Karachi.

The mood was more sombre on Sunday as Bhutto called on a bereaved family who lost their 22-year-old son in the blasts to offer prayers, before moving on to the home of a party worker injured in the attacks.

Thousands from the party faithful, including from Larkana district, had made long journeys to Karachi to take part in her homecoming parade.

"I have come to condole the martyrdom of a brave and innocent boy of 22 years who lost his life in the movement to save democracy," Bhutto wrote in a condolence book on the verandah of the family's two-room mud house.

Hundreds of people climbed onto rooftops and gathered in lanes of an impoverished neighbourhood in Larkana town to try to catch a glimpse of Bhutto.

Others chanted "Jiye Bhutto (Long live Bhutto)" as guards and paramilitary officers surrounded the houses and kept supporters at bay.

Bhutto has vowed to stay in Pakistan despite the bombings and lead her party in general elections, which are seen as a key step in the nation's return to democracy after eights years of military rule by President Pervez Musharraf.

The attacks on her homecoming procession in Karachi happened just hours after Bhutto set foot on Pakistani soil for the first time since 1999 and ruined her planned triumphant return to contest the polls set for January.

Bhutto was granted an amnesty by Musharraf on corruption charges earlier this month, paving the way for her return and a possible power-sharing pact with the general, who seized power in a 1999 coup.

The future of the pact is unclear in the wake of the blasts amid tensions between Bhutto's and Musharraf's parties over who should be held responsible.

Bhutto said Sunday there were no plans as yet to meet with Musharraf.

"I see the election of 2007 as a political turning point in the history of Pakistan. It is essential that power is transferred from dictatorship in a smooth manner," she added.

The United States and Britain have been quietly pushing the pact as the best chance of fighting Islamic extremism and for political stability in the nation of 160 million people.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the worst in the nation's history, with Bhutto alleging a link to rogue elements in the establishment and a pro-Taliban militant denying his involvement.