England to probe killing of Bhutto

The Baltimore Sun

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pummeled by international and domestic skepticism over his government's version of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, President Pervez Musharraf announced yesterday that Pakistan had invited Scotland Yard to help investigate the killing.

In his first major address to the nation since Bhutto was slain Dec. 27, Musharraf also defended the decision to delay by six weeks parliamentary elections that were to have taken place next Tuesday. Rioting in the wake of Bhutto's death, he said, had left the security situation too precarious to proceed as scheduled.

Leaders of major opposition parties denounced the postponement but said they would take part in the Feb. 18 vote under protest.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, stepped down as army chief in November and took office as a civilian president. But pro-democracy critics remain angry over his six-week imposition of emergency rule that ended in mid-December. During that time, he suspended the constitution, jailed thousands of opposition activists, fired senior judges and imposed curbs on independent broadcast outlets.

The assassination of Bhutto, an opposition leader and former prime minister, generated a new wave of fury against Musharraf, already unpopular among Pakistanis at the time of the killings.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, who took the reins of her Pakistan People's Party, declared on national television after Musharraf spoke that the party would participate in the vote, but that people should "express their anger through their ballots."

In recent days, Zardari has called repeatedly for an international investigation of Bhutto's killing, sharply questioning statements made by Musharraf's government about the circumstances of the attack.

In his half-hour speech, Musharraf refrained from repeating the much-derided contention made by his Interior Ministry last week that Bhutto died of a skull fracture sustained when, propelled by the force of the suicide bomb that went off a few yards from her armored SUV, she struck her head on the lever of the sunroof. She was waving to supporters through the sunroof at the time.

Musharraf said new evidence had since emerged, including videos, still photos and witness statements, which investigators would take into account. Some images have shown a gunman firing toward Bhutto. They have also shown a second man believed to have set off the explosion seconds later.

Laura King and Henry Chu write for the Los Angeles Times.

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