GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH, Pakistan (AP) – More than 150,000 Pakistanis flocked to the mausoleum of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Saturday after some walked hundreds of miles (kilometers) to offer flowers and kiss her grave on the first anniversary of her assassination.
Some mourners beat their heads and chests and wailing. Several burst into tears. “I am taking these flowers to take home and will show my daughters this gift,” said 41-year-old Saifullah Khan.
Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack on Dec. 27, 2007, as she was leaving a rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, just outside the capital of Islamabad. She was campaigning to return her Pakistan People’s Party to power in parliamentary elections, a scenario supported by the United States, which admired her secular credentials. Her assassination shocked the world, fanning revulsion at rising militant violence in Pakistan as well as conspiracy theories that the country’s powerful spy agencies were involved. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, took over Bhutto’s party after her death and was elected president in September, facing a crushing economic crisis and soaring violence by militants also blamed for attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The country of 160 million is now facing a fresh crisis triggered by last month’s terror attacks on Mumbai, which India has blamed on Pakistani militants.
“She gave a voice to the people, gave a voice to the downtrodden, the poor and the laborers,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a televised speech. “She was a hope for the people of this country, she was a hope for this region.”
Zardari was to speak to mourners later Saturday. Sher Mohammad, 23, was among many supporters who trekked hundreds of miles (kilometers) to pay respects. “She gave her life for the people of this country, so we can walk a few miles to pay homage to her dignity,” said Mohammad, whose feet were swollen from the trip.
Police officer Tanveer Odho estimated between 150,000 to 200,000 turned out at the mausoleum Saturday.
At United Nations headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday he hoped a U.N. commission would be established in the near future to investigate Bhutto’s killing.
Bhutto’s party and Zardari have demanded a U.N. probe, but have not followed up vague allegations they made after her death that forces linked to then-President Pervez Musharraf were involved.
Musharraf’s government blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant commander with reported links to al-Qaida, citing a communications intercept in which Mehsud allegedly congratulated some of his henchmen. A Mehsud spokesman has denied any involvement.
The United States also said Islamic extremists carried out the attack.
The Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, must authorize any investigating commission. “The secretary-general is hopeful that, with the progression of the discussions, the commission could be established in the near future,” U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.