Pak police release photo of Karachi bomber

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Karachi, Oct 20: Pakistani police released a photograph today of a suicide bomber who killed at least 139 people, as opposition leader Benazir Bhutto worked out her next step after the bloody start to her comeback campaign.

The militant threat demonstrated to such devastating effect in Karachi on Friday raised fears over the prospects for a national election due in early January that is supposed to mark a transition from military-led to civilian-led democracy.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters in Lahore the election schedule would not be affected, and caretaker governments would be in place at federal and provincial levels after November 15.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, however, voiced concern that campaigning could be restricted due to security worries. Both Aziz and Sherpao have survived suicide attacks.

Urdu language newspapers carried passport-sized photographs of the head of the suicide bomber propped on a white sheet.

The dead eyes stared blankly out of the chubby, unshaven face, the heavy growth apparent around the jawline and top lip.

The man appeared to be in his twenties.

''The age of suspect is in between 20 to 25 and he looks to be a Karachiite,'' a security official, who requested not to be identified, told Reuters.

A police statement said at least 139 people died in yesterday's attack and 325 were wounded.

Today, a car bomb killed four people in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

Suicide bombings have multiplied since the army stormed the Red Mosque in the capital Islamabad to crush an armed student movement last July.

The United States and its allies want to see elections go-ahead in nuclear-armed Pakistan in the hope that a moderate, pro-Western government will emerge to fight the al Qaeda and Taliban threat and help Western forces stabilise Afghanistan.

Washington is believed to have quietly promoted an alliance between Bhutto and its ally President Pervez Musharraf, the army chief who came to power in a coup in 1999.

For now, Bhutto has put on ice plans to go to Larkana, a town 240 km (150 miles) northeast of Karachi, to pray at the tomb of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first popularly elected prime minister, who was deposed and executed after another military coup three decades ago.

''We are observing a three-day mourning over the tragedy.

The mourning will end tomorrow and then she will decide about her next plans,'' PPP spokeswoman Sherry Rehman said.

The hundreds of thousands of supporters who turned out to greet Bhutto 10 years after she last held power, and eight years since she went into self-imposed exile, showed she retained more mass appeal than any other Pakistani politician.

Looking For Clues

Investigators' main focus will be on who sent yesterday's suicide bomber. Government officials have already asserted that the culprits were Islamist militants, but they are uncertain which group.

Pakistani Taliban fighters working with al Qaeda earlier this month made assassination threats against Bhutto, who has talked of working with Musharraf to fight militancy and extremism.

But Bhutto, at a news conference yesterday, said she had more to fear from un-named members of the Pakistani power structure who she described as allies of the ''forces of militancy''.

She said she had given their names to Musharraf, and wasn't blaming the government at this stage.

There is strong speculation that Bhutto might share power with Musharraf after the elections, depending on the performance of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

There is resistance to any partnership with the PPP within the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML), a loose-knit collection of politicians who Musharraf pulled under his banner.

The election will almost certainly result in a hung parliament, in which all sides will cast around for allies.

Meantime, Musharraf is struggling to keep Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister he ousted and exiled, out of the country.

Sharif was booted out again in September and deported to Saudi Arabia when he tried to end his exile.

The Saudi government is putting pressure on Musharraf to let Sharif return, but Musharraf fears PML members will defect if their old party leader is allowed back, according to diplomats.

Musharraf, who has pledged to quit the army and become a civilian president if his Oct. 6 re-election by parliament is ratified, is also trying to keep the Supreme Court at bay.

The court, regarded as hostile since Musharraf tried to sack its top judge earlier this year, is hearing a number of cases against the government, including challenges to Musharraf's eligibility to have stood for re-election while still army chief.


Reuters
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