Musharraf denies government involvement in death of Bhutto

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Benazir Bhutto

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has denied accusations the security forces or intelligence services were involved in the assassination of former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

President Musharraf, who blames al-Qaida for Ms. Bhutto's death, told reporters he had warned the former prime minister about threats to her safety from Islamic militants as she campaigned for elections. He has also said that Bhutto's death was partly her fault.

"I did warn her again that, 'you must understand the environment. You are coming here after so many years. This Pakistan is a different Pakistan, which you don't understand. Please understand the environment and the threat environment that we are living in,'" he said.

Ms. Bhutto's supporters blame the government for failing to provide her with adequate security, while others believe elements within the government were responsible for her death as she was leaving a campaign rally a week ago.

When asked about this, Mr. Musharraf responded with visible anger.

"I have been brought up in a very educated and civilized family, which believes in values, which believes in principles, which believes in character," he said. "My family, by any imagination, is not a family, which believes in killing people, assassinating, intriguing. And that is all that I want to say."

Mr. Musharraf denied a security lapse was responsible for Ms. Bhutto's death, telling reporters she had chosen her own police superintendent in charge of her security and had 30 officers with her. In addition, he said, more than 1,000 police, including rooftop snipers, were deployed at the Rawalpindi rally where a suicide bomber blew himself up near her vehicle after gunshots were fired.

Asked about the hosing down of the blast site just hours after Ms. Bhutto's death, Mr. Musharraf said people cleaning the area did not realize they were destroying potentially crucial evidence.

Mr. Musharraf has invited investigators from the UK to help with the government's probe into the assassination.

But Ms. Bhutto's supporters, including her opposition party, the Pakistan People's Party, demand the United Nations lead an independent investigation.

The government says she was not killed by gunshots or shrapnel, but that she hit her head on the sunroof of the car. Ms. Bhutto's supporters say she was shot.

Ms. Bhutto narrowly escaped a previous assassination attempt last October on the day she returned to Pakistan after eight years in self-imposed exile. That attack claimed the lives of more than 140 people.