Blasts kill 138 in Karachi as Bhutto returns

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Karachi, Oct 19: At least 138 people were killed and more than 500 injured as radicals opposed to democratic forces triggered two powerful suicide blasts in a bid to assassinate former prime minister Benazir Bhutto during her homecoming procession after eight years in self-imposed exile late last night but the Pakistan People's Party chief escaped unhurt.

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 Pakistan People's Party (PPP) supporters who had flooded the streets of the city to welcome the return of their leader.

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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.

At the time of 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 has been 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 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.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz condemned the attacks in Islamabad. In separate messages they said such acts cannot 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.

Reuters
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