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Pak Govt makes U-turn on cause of Bhutto's death

Pakistan Govt has 'apologised' for claiming that Benazir died of a skull fracture after hitting the sunroof of her car.

world Updated: Jan 01, 2008 17:18 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar

In a dramatic U-turn, Pakistan government has "apologised" for claiming that former premier Benazir Bhutto died of a skull fracture after hitting the sunroof of her car during a suicide attack.

Caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan has asked the media and people to "forgive and ignore" comments made by his ministry's spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema which were slammed by her Pakistan People's Party as "lies" and led to an uproar at home and abroad.

The Interior Minister made the apology during a briefing for Pakistani newspaper editors on Monday. Punjab province on Tuesday issued a front-page advertisement in newspapers that offered a reward of Rs 1 crore for information about a gunman and a suspected suicide bomber seen in the photos and video footage of the assassination.

The government's apparent damage control exercise on Cheema's comments made at a news conference a day after Bhutto was assassinated at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi on December 27, came after TV channels aired privately shot photos and video footage which showed a gunman shooting at Bhutto.

The Pakistan People's Party leader is seen in the footage falling through the sun-roof before the suicide bomber detonated his explosives. The briefing by caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro was also attended by the foreign, interior and information ministers and senior officials.

"Editor after editor lambasted the government for its non-serious attitude towards the tragedy, specially the statement that Bhutto had died by hitting the lever and not (due to) a bullet or shrapnel," The News reported.

During the briefing, an editor asked why spokesman Cheema had said that a lever on the sun-roof had caused a fatal injury when the manufacturers of the car and Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari had stated that there was no metallic lever that could have caused the wound.

Khan said the spokesman's comments may have been a mistake as "we are faujis (soldiers) and we are not so articulate to present our views as you journalists can". Both the interior minister and spokesman Cheema are retired army officers.

"I am sorry if that happened and please forgive us and ignore the comment," he told the editors. Earlier, Prime Minister Soomro tried to defend the interior ministry's spokesman, saying he was just relaying facts that had been told to him, especially about the cause of death.

"We are conducting an investigation and all TV footage, all evidence, that would be available will help in reaching a definite conclusion," Soomro told the editors.

But the editors asked more questions, especially with reference to the medical report of doctors of Rawalpindi General Hospital who treated Bhutto.

They "emphatically pointed out that the report quoted by the spokesman never mentioned the cause of the head injury" to Bhutto. The report only said there was a skull fracture which caused cardio-pulmonary arrest, the editors pointed out. Soomro then referred the issue to Interior Minister Khan. He explained in detail the security measures taken and asserted that Bhutto had a bulletproof vehicle which could not be damaged by a bomb or bullets.

Once she was inside it, she was secure and police vans were trying to keep her car clear of other vehicles. But when she emerged from the sun-roof she exposed herself to an attack, Khan said.

"Nothing would have happened to her even if every one in the world had wanted to hurt her," the Minister added. Soomro was repeatedly asked whether he would allow a foreign investigation into the murder but he asserted that Pakistani experts were competent to do the job.

His denial raised questions from the editors about the offer made by President Pervez Musharraf to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to consider foreign help in probing the assassination.

Meanwhile, the advertisement issued by Punjab's Home Ministry included two photos of the suspected assailant and the severed head of the suspected bomber.

"The public is hereby informed that the two individuals in the above photographs are the accused terrorists in the Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi terror attack, which resulted in the death of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and others," it said.

"The government of Punjab has announced a cash award of Rs 1 crore for lead information and any solid evidence." The advertisement said the names of persons providing any information would be kept "strictly confidential". It also sought the cooperation of the people for "dismantling of terrorist network".