Benazir Bhutto to host supporters at home

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Garhi Khuda Baksh (Pakistan), Oct 28: Surrounded by guards wielding AK-47 and M-16 rifles, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was due to receive supporters and relatives at her ancestral home in southern Pakistan today.

But with security fears still high after an assassination attempt killed 139 people hours after she returned to Pakistan last week after eight years in self-imposed exile, Bhutto's movements have been sharply curtailed.

''She will meet with local people and party workers and some relatives. Most of the day she will spend at home because all the guests will call on her,'' said Jamil Soomro, provincial media coordinator for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

''She may visit relatives of two party workers who died in the rally attack,'' he added. ''Because of security reasons, we won't be able to give information to media beforehand.'' Around 4,000 supporters turned out to welcome Bhutto back to her native Sindh province yesterday as she made her way overland from the city of Sukkur to her ancestral village of Garhi Khuda Baksh in a bullet-proof Landcruiser.

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 fears militants could seek to launch another assassination bid. And she was also told not to host traditional open house meetings for the public.

Oxford-educated Bhutto enjoys massive feudal support in Sindh, and is the most popular politician in Pakistan.

''I'd really like to hold such meetings and interact with my people, but my colleague advised me not to do this because of security threats,'' Bhutto said late yesterday at her large compound, which sits amid rice and sugar cane fields.

At least one suicide bomber, and possibly two, attacked her convoy in Karachi as it travelled slowly through a crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters hours after she returned to Pakistan following eight years away to avoid corruption charges.

The government blames the Karachi attack on Islamist militants based in tribal lands bordering neighbouring Afghanistan, where al Qaeda and the Taliban are entrenched.

Bhutto has said she suspects political allies of President Pervez Musharraf were also plotting against her, although she says she has no reason to believe he was involved personally.

General Musharraf granted an amnesty that allowed Bhutto to return to Pakistan without fear of prosecution in graft cases hanging over her from the 1990s.

There is speculation the pair might end up sharing power after national elections due by early January, and the United States, concerned about rising militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan, is believed to be quietly fostering a partnership.


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