Benazir survives mid-night assassination plot; 139 killed

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Karachi, Oct 19 (UNI) In the worst-ever terrorist attack in Pakistan, at least 139 people were killed and more than 500 injured when radical opponents of democracy made a vain attempt to assassinate former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto late last night by triggering two powerful suicide explosions as her homecoming procession after eight years in self-imposed exile made its way to her ancestral home here.

The two explosions went off a minute apart shortly after midnight near Karsaz close to the vehicle Ms Bhutto was travelling in, at the head of a procession of hundreds of thousands of PPP supporters who had flooded the streets of the city to welcome the return of their leader.

Ms Bhutto refused to use a bulletproof glass cubicle that had been built atop the truck taking her to the tomb of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, to address a rally.

Just before the blasts, she had gone inside the truck to take rest. However, several senior PPP leaders suffered splinter injuries.

She was immediately taken to her ancestral Bilawal House, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig (retd) Javed Iqbal Cheema said.

Police Surgeon Karachi, Dr. Bashir Ahmed Shaikh confirmed 126 deaths.

According to eyewitnesses more than two dozen vehicles, including police mobile units, were completely destroyed in the explosions. They said at least 20 policemen were among the dead.

Police official Raja Umer Khitab said evidence at the scene suggested it was a suicide bombing. He said it destroyed two police vans escorting Ms Bhutto's truck. He said the legs and head of the suicide bomber has been found.

A high alert was sounded in the city and an emergency declared in all hospitals. Forty bodies were taken to the Liaquat National Hospital, 60 to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and 27 to the Civil Hospital.

As the entire world, including India, condemned the dastardly attack, Ms Bhutto told the media this evening that she had informed President Pervez Musharraf about the possibility of such an attempt on her life. ''There may be more attacks on me and my house in future,'' she added.

Describing the attempt on her life as an attack on democracy, she said militancy was a threat to unity and integrity of Pakistan.

President Musharraf called up the former Prime Minister to strongly condemn the assassination bid on her in Karachi and directed intelligence agencies to utilise all resources to apprehend those behind the attempt.

As many as 91 wounded were admitted to Civil Hospital, 93 taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and 55 admitted at Aga Khan Hospital.

Ms Bhutto demanded the removal of Intelligence Bureau chief Brig Ijaz Shah. Her husband Asif Ali Zardari was quoted by Geo TV as saying that ''some elements'' within the government were behind the attacks.

In separate messages, Gen Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz condemned the attack and said such acts would deter the government from its resolve to fight extremism and terrorism.

The United States also condemned the blasts, saying they would not derail the country's coming elections. ''The United States condemns the violent attack in Pakistan and mourns the loss of innocent life there,'' White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

No group X X X Eds picking up here from line one para one of DF 5, BLAST-PAKISTAN-LEAD BHUTTO TWO LAST KARACHI.

UNI

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