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Hundreds of Thousands Attend Emotional Funeral for Bhutto


Pakistan's assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest next to her father in the family grave on Friday, but there is no let-up in country-wide violent street protests triggered by her killing. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.

Hundreds of thousands of emotionally charged supporters attended the funeral of the 54-year-old slain politician in the southern town of Larkana in Sindh province, Bhutto's political stronghold.

She was killed as she was leaving an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi near the Pakistani capital on Thursday. Her death has plunged the country into one of its worst crises in its 60-year history.

Pakistani authorities say there are signs the al-Qaida terror network was behind her assassination.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Cheema gave more details at a news conference Friday night in the Pakistani capital.

"She was on the hit-list of al-Qaida," said Cheema. "We have intelligence intercepts indicating that al-Qaida leader Baitullah Mehsud is behind her assassination. We just have an intelligence intercept in which Baitullah Mehsud has congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act."

The fugitive extremist leader is one of Pakistan's most wanted men, and is based in the Waziristan tribal regions near the Afghan border.

The Interior Ministry spokesman also said that Mehsud was behind a suicide bomb attack on Ms. Bhutto October 18 in Karachi, hours after she returned to the country from eight years of exile. That attack killed 140 people.

Cheema also rejected earlier reports that Ms. Bhutto died of bullet wounds or was hit by shrapnel from the blast of the suicide bomber near her convoy. He says the politician was killed when the force of the explosion crashed her head against a lever on the sun-roof of her vehicle.

Some of the protests over her death have turned violent, and spokesman Cheema warned protesters against hurting people or damaging property.

"We would sternly deal with those elements who are trying to create disorder in the society," said Cheema. "The army has already been deployed in parts of Karachi where they are trying to maintain law and order."

In the province of Sindh, paramilitary forces have been ordered to shoot violent protesters on sight.

The violence has claimed a number of lives, and protesters have torched scores of official buildings and cars, and there are fears the turmoil could lead to postponement of the January polls.

But Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro dismissed those fears, saying the government has no immediate plan to postpone the January 8 election.

President Musharraf has condemned the killing as a terrorist act, and has declared three days of national mourning. Ms. Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and her three children arrived early Friday from Dubai to attend the funeral.

In addition to the funeral in Sindh, funeral prayer services were held across the country, including Islamabad.

Ms. Bhutto, the daughter of the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had served twice as the country's prime minister. She had spent the past several years in exile after she had been charged with corruption. She returned two months ago to campaign in next month's election.

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