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Pak Govt offers to exhume Bhutto body for inquiry

The PPP has challenged the official version that Benazir Bhutto died after hitting her head on a sunroof lever of her armoured vehicle.

world Updated: Dec 30, 2007 02:42 IST

The Benazir Bhutto assassination story of the Pakistan government has failed to convince the former PM’s party and her supporters who suspect a cover-up operation.

On Saturday, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) challenged the official version that Benazir died after hitting her head on a sunroof lever of her armoured vehicle.

The PPP accused President Pervez Musharraf’s administration of trying to cover up failures just days before planned elections.

Sherry Rehman, a PPP spokeswoman and close aide of Benazir, dismissed the government theory. “She has a bullet wound at the back of her head on the left side,” said Rehman, who suffered leg injuries in the blast. “She was bleeding even while we were bathing her for the burial.”

“The government is trying to say she concussed herself, which is ludicrous. It is dangerous nonsense,” she said.

But Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema stuck to his claims. He said the government would let Benazir’s body be exhumed for inquiry if her party wanted it.

The villain in the government’s version — Al-Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud — has also spoken out. “I strongly deny it. Tribal people have their own customs. We don't strike women,” Mehsud’s spokesman Maulvi Omar said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, told the BBC her will would be read out to a meeting of the PPP by her son on Sunday.

Asked if he wanted to lead the party, Zardari replied: "It depends on the party and it depends on the will."

Many mourners chanted slogans against Musharraf and the US, which backs the former general in the hope he can ensure stability in the face of Islamist violence and relies on Pakistan as an ally against Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan's Taliban.

Violence meanwhile continued on the streets, taking the death toll since the assassination on Thursday to more than 40. This stoked fears that the January 8 election meant to restore civilian rule could be put off.

US President George W. Bush has urged Pakistanis to honour Bhutto's memory by going ahead with the election. In Karachi, masked gunmen shot dead a 27-year-old man wearing a tunic made from the PPP flag. He had just shouted "Bhutto is great" while returning from the mausoleum where Bhutto was buried on Friday, police said.

So far the government has not announced any decision to call off or postpone the vote, but the Election Commission says it is planning an emergency meeting on Monday.

In Washington, the US urged Pakistan to clear up how Benazir was assassinated. "Certainly, we expect that there will be a full investigation of this," Tom Casey, a US state department spokesman, told reporters Friday.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, however, said he had "no evidence to contradict" the Pakistani claims linking Benazir's death to Al-Qaeda. "We have no evidence to contradict the reports that are coming out of Pakistan," he said. "Obviously it's very important that a full investigation does take place that has the full confidence of all concerned."