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Condemnation, Concern Follow Bhutto Assassination


World reaction to the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been a mixture of outrage and concern about the future of her politically volatile country. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

The headlines in some major newspapers around Europe on Friday mirrored the general reaction to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

"Fears rise as Bhutto falls," was the headline in the British daily, The Times, while the lead story talked of Pakistan plunging into chaos. The Independent posed the question, "What Now for Pakistan?" An editorial in the French newspaper, Le Monde, warned of "danger ahead;" and Belgium's Le Soir said Pakistan's democracy is "writhing in blood and could soon be without life."

Newspapers in Turkey predicted a possible prolonged period of instability for Pakistan with the liberal daily Milliyet calling Ms. Bhutto's assassination a major "blow to Pakistan's future."

Hours after Ms. Bhutto's assassination in Rawalpindi on Thursday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the attack and praised the slain opposition leader as a woman of great courage. "This is a sad day for democracy," said Mr. Brown. "It's a tragic hour for Pakistan."

Concerns over the implications of the assassination are rising. On Friday, Britain's Foreign Office tightened its travel advisory for Pakistan, warning against all but essential travel to the country.

Political analyst Farzana Shaikh of London's Chatham House research center told VOA, Pakistan is entering uncharted waters. "It faces possibly the greatest political crisis since the inception of the state in 1947," said Shaikh. "Precisely, how this crisis plays out in the next few weeks and months will depend on the decisions that are taken by the caretaker government and President [Pervez] Musharraf."

Shaikh said the government will have to decide whether it can go ahead with planned elections next month despite the current instability and constant threats of violence.

Benazir Bhutto was campaigning for the upcoming parliamentary elections for her Pakistan Peoples' Party when she was killed. She was hoping to return as prime minister, sharing power with President Pervez Musharraf, the army general who overthrew Pakistan's last civilian government in 1999.

Ms. Bhutto was head of a prominent political dynasty. Her father served as prime minister in 1973, was overthrown by the military in 1977 and executed two years later. She followed in his political footsteps, serving twice as prime minister and was finally dismissed from office in 1996 amid allegations of corruption, which she said were politically motivated.

Political analyst Farzana Shaikh said that despite two flawed terms as prime minister, Benazir Bhutto remained immensely popular and a political icon.

"She, more than any other political leader with the possible exception of her father, gave many people in Pakistan a real sense of belonging, a sense that somehow they were in control of their national destiny," noted Shaikh. "This is very important in Pakistan where for the most part political decisions are made by a very small elite who have never made any secret of their contempt for democratic politics."

Shaikh said with the death of Ms. Bhutto, the opposition has been left without a leader with the stature she brought to the party.

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