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Nation Special


Defiant Bhutto says blasts were ‘attack on democracy’

Former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto vowed Friday she would never surrender to militants, after a suicide bomber killed 138 people in an “attack on democracy” that wrecked her jubilant homecoming.
Bhutto was unhurt in Thursday night’s attack, having climbed into her specially fortified vehicle just moments before two explosions ripped through crowds welcoming her back to Karachi after eight years in exile.

The streets of Pakistan’s biggest city, packed with hundreds of thousands of her supporters, quickly became a scene of bloody carnage as the nuclear-armed nation plunged into fresh political turmoil.
“It was an attack on democracy and it was an attack on the very unity and integrity of Pakistan,” Bhutto told a press conference in the port city, wearing a black armband in memory of the victims,

Bhutto pledged to defy “cowards” from Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups who had vowed to launch suicide attacks against her before she flew home from Dubai.
“If it means sacrificing our lives, then we are prepared to risk our lives, but we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants,” said Bhutto.

She further promised to stay in Pakistan to fight general elections in January, seen as a key step to returning the Islamic republic of some 160 million people to civilian rule.
It was the worst suicide attack in Pakistan’s history and cast a cloud over hopes that her return, under a deal cut with President Pervez Musharraf, might end months of unrest in the South Asian country.
Military ruler Musharraf called Bhutto to offer his condolences and pledged to arrest the culprits behind the “terrorist attack”, his spokesman said.

Bhutto earlier accused Islamist supporters of late military ruler Mohammed Zia ul-Haq of being behind the blasts, in an interview published in French on the Internet site of Paris Match magazine.
Zia overthrew Bhutto’s father, prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1977 and had him hanged two years later, while her brother was shot dead here in 1996.

The explosions -- a grenade followed by a suicide blast -- came hours after Bhutto had flown home, sobbing as she set foot on Pakistani soil for the first time since 1999 after shrugged off warnings of militant attacks.
“It was like walking through an abattoir,” said an AFP photographer who was nearby when the bombing occurred. Hospital officials said nearly 400 people were injured.

The explosion damaged Bhutto’s campaign bus decked out with portraits of the ex-prime minister and her father, on which she had been driven through the crushing crowds for more than eight hours.
Interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema said a grenade was thrown into the crowd seconds before the suicide attacker struck. The explosives were packed with pellets and nails, he added.

He said the blast “appears to be the handiwork of militants who have been creating acts of terrorism in the country.”
Karachi was in shock Friday with shops and schools closed, as families headed to morgues to retrieve bodies of those killed.
“He died while protecting our leader. At least she (Bhutto) survived,” said Mashook Ali, whose 17-year-old son Raib was among supporters who acted as a self-styled security detachment working close to Bhutto’s truck.
Deputy information minister Tariq Azeem said there had been a prior threat by Baitullah Mehsud, a pro-Taliban warlord linked to a string of attacks since July, to attack Bhutto.

A purported spokesman for Mehsud later denied involvement.
Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari however blamed one of the country’s three powerful intelligence agencies.
Bhutto had returned from self-imposed exile after Musharraf dropped corruption charges against her in the hope her popularity could shore up his grip on power.
She had mostly worked out a power-sharing deal with him, but his re-election as president earlier this month is now being challenged in the courts.

The United States, which sees Pakistan as a key ally in its “war on terror,” led the global outcry to the blasts. The White House said Islamic extremists were likely to blame, and Washington offered help with the investigation.
Australia said the attack bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the bombing. (AFP)

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Pakistan probes suspects

KARACHI (AFP) - Pakistan probed Saturday a list of possible suspects given by former premier Benazir Bhutto after a suicide assassination bid that killed 138 people and bloodied her return from exile.
Bhutto said she had sent President Pervez Musharraf the names of three people she accused of involvement in Thursday’s blast, which ripped through a crowd of hundreds of thousands who welcomed her back to Karachi.
“I have shared the names with General Musharraf and one of the people is someone that they are (already) watching,” Bhutto told the BBC in an interview, but refused to give their names.

Sources in her Pakistan People’s Party said they included senior army officials but would not give further details.
Bhutto has said that she received a prior warning about members of Al-Qaeda, Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and a Karachi-based militant group who may plan to attack her.

She has also accused Islamist supporters of late military ruler Mohammed Zia ul-Haq of being behind the blasts. He overthrew Bhutto’s father, prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1977 and had him hanged two years later.
Police said they were pushing forward with investigations but had made no arrests. Musharraf pledged to bring the culprits to justice in a telephone call to Bhutto on Friday.

“Investigations are progressing in the right direction but once again we will avoid pinpointing anyone or blaming it on a certain set of militants,” Karachi police chief Azhar Farooqi told AFP.
“There has been a minor piece of evidence found from the site today but we will not be disclosing it. Police have secured the site of the blast and taken samples.”

Bhutto has pledged to stay in Pakistan to combat militancy and fight general elections in January, seen as a key step to returning the Islamic republic of some 160 million people to civilian rule.
But the attack on her motorcade, the worst suicide bombing in Pakistan’s history, has cast doubt over her previous plans to tour the country whipping up support ahead of the polls.
Her party said she would soon visit the tomb of her father in her family’s ancestral village of Larkana, deep in southern Sindh province.

“Her next stop will be Larkana to pay homage to her shaheed (martyr) father. That will come in a day or so,” senior party leader Taj Haider told AFP.
“She is meeting party officials and consulting them. The programmes are being re-adjusted because of the security threat but she has said the attack will not deter her and the party from going ahead with plans.”
The explosions -- a grenade followed by a suicide blast -- came hours after Bhutto had flown home, sobbing as she set foot on Pakistani soil for the first time since 1999 after shrugging off warnings of militant attacks.

Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari has blamed one of the country’s three powerful intelligence agencies.
Bhutto had returned from self-imposed exile after Musharraf dropped corruption charges against her in the hope her popularity could shore up his grip on power.

She had mostly worked out a power-sharing deal with him, but his re-election as president earlier this month is now being challenged in the courts.
The United States, which sees Pakistan as a key ally in its “war on terror,” led the global outcry to the blasts. The White House said Islamic extremists were likely to blame, and Washington offered help with the investigation.
Australia said the attack bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the bombing.

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US offers to help probe deadly Pakistani blast

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States on Friday offered to help Pakistan probe the circumstances surrounding bomb blasts that killed at least 138 people during ex-premier Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming parade.
Bhutto was unhurt in Thursday night’s attack, having climbed into her specially fortified vehicle just moments before two explosions ripped through crowds welcoming her back to Karachi after eight years in exile.

US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Peterson telephoned Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz Friday to “provide any support that Pakistan might need as it proceeds with its efforts to investigate this incident,” said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman.
“There have not been any specific request made at this time but again we would stand ready to support them if they needed it,” he told reporters.

Peterson also expressed US concerns and condemnation over the attack, he said.
The United States, which sees Pakistan as a key ally in its “war on terror,” has led a global outcry following the deadly blasts.
On concerns over Bhutto’s security, Casey said the blast “appears to be a deliberate attack aimed at her and her party.
“Who is responsible for that and what the circumstances are is something that needs to be investigated. I understand that Pakistani authorities will do so,” he said.
It was premature, he said, to pinpoint any group for staging the attack.
“I don’t think we have particular belief at this point that we can really talk about in terms of who we would put responsibility for this incident,” he said.

Bhutto pledged to defy “cowards” from Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups who had vowed to launch suicide attacks against her before she flew home from Dubai.
While admitting Islamist extremists were likely responsible for the attack itself, Bhutto stressed such groups could not operate without logistical support from people in positions of power.

The explosions -- a grenade followed by a suicide blast -- came hours after Bhutto had flown home, sobbing as she set foot on Pakistani soil for the first time since 1999, having shrugged off warnings of militant attacks.
Military ruler Pervez Musharraf called Bhutto to “convey his deepest sorrow over the terrorist attack” and pledged to arrest the culprits, a presidential spokesman, retired Major General Rashid Qureshi, told AFP.

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70 punished in accidental B-52 flight

WASHINGTON - The Air Force said Friday it has punished 70 airmen involved in the accidental, cross-country flight of a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber following an investigation that found widespread disregard for the rules on handling such munitions.
“There has been an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards at Minot Air Force Base and Barksdale Air Force Base,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Newton, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations.

Newton was announcing the results of a six-week probe into the Aug. 29-30 incident in which the B-52 was inadvertently armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown from Minot in North Dakota to Barksdale in Louisiana without anyone noticing the mistake for more than a day.

The missiles were supposed to be taken to Louisiana, but the warheads were supposed to have been removed beforehand.
A main reason for the error was that crews had decided not to follow a complex schedule under which the status of the missiles is tracked while they are disarmed, loaded, moved and so on, one official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The airmen replaced the schedule with their own “informal” system, he said, though he didn’t say why they did that nor how long they had been doing it their own way.
“This was an unacceptable mistake and a clear deviation from our exacting standards,” Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said at a Pentagon press conference with Newton. “We hold ourselves accountable to the American people and want to ensure proper corrective action has been taken.”

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said she believed the Air Force had done a thorough investigation, but the findings were “a warning sign that there has been degradation” of attitudes toward the handling of the weapons.

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We never lied about our marriage: Cecilia

PARIS (AFP) - Cecilia Sarkozy said she and her former husband French President Nicolas Sarkozy had never lied about their marriage, in an interview that appears Saturday in the weekly magazine Elle.
“I always acted and thought for my family and wasn’t calculating. Nicolas and I never lied. We tried to rebuild, save our relationship, right up until the end,” in response to suggestions they could be “accused of having lied during the election campaign in playing a united couple.”

The notoriously difficult relationship of the Sarkozys was of intense interest in the run-up to the May presidential election, fueled by the fact they were rarely were seen together.
Since Sarkozy’s election CeciliaOn Friday, in an interview with the L’Est Republicain, she admitted she had “fallen in love” with another man in 2005 and went to live with him in New York, and said the couple had done everything to try to rebuild their marriage but failed.
She described herself as “someone who prefers the shadows, serenity, tranquility” and not cut out for the very public role of a first lady.

In the interview with Elle, Cecilia said she hopes her ex-husband “finds serenity, to be the politician who brings the country what it needs” and to “be happy.”
“He has a right to happiness, he deserves it, and me I can’t make him happy if I don’t feel good myself,” she told the magazine, which released the interview in advance.
“I gave Nicolas 20 years of my life, 20 years which weren’t always easy, far from it. Twenty years where I stayed in the shadows for him,” the 49-year-old former model, lawyer and political advisor told the magazine.
“Me, what I missed the most of all, was going to the supermarket with my son Louis,” she added.

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Mexico finds 24 ‘migrant’ bodies

The bodies of 24 people believed to be illegal migrants have been washed ashore in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
The dead, who were all men, were thought to be trying to get to the United States from Central America.
The authorities suspect many more may still be in the water and a search and rescue operation is under way.
At this stage, bad weather is being blamed, but boats carrying illegal immigrants through Mexican waters are often overloaded or unseaworthy.

The gruesome discovery came after the civil protection authorities in Oaxaca had received calls that a boat carrying illegal immigrants from Central America had capsized off the Pacific coast.
“This morning, we got a report that a vessel carrying undocumented migrants had capsized or gone down,” Oaxaca state public safety secretary Sergio Segreste told AP news agency.

“The assumption is that the cause of the accident was the rough weather.”
Correspondents say there are numerous ways in which people-smugglers take immigrants to the United States via Mexico and traffickers are constantly seeking new routes which avoid checkpoints and customs officers.
Often people are carried first to Mexico by boat, from where they must make a second hazardous journey across the border hidden in trucks or lorries.

Other journeys involve hundreds of kilometres by sea to take immigrants directly to the US coastline.
Many Cubans who leave the island travel to Mexico first rather than trying to cross the Florida straits. Illegal immigrants often pay as much as $5,000 to be taken north.

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