Pakistan Commission Recommends Election Delay
Parliamentary elections in Pakistan looked headed for a delay of several weeks despite a call from supporters of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and other politicians that they go ahead as originally scheduled on Jan. 8, officials said Monday.
A newly released video of Bhutto's assassination last week and an inconclusive medical report also raised doubts about the official explanation of her death.
The Election Commission said it had recommended an unspecified delay in the parliamentary polls following unrest triggered by Bhutto's assassination last week. It said its final decision would be made on Tuesday.
Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party wants the polls to go ahead quickly, perhaps sensing a likely sympathy vote in the aftermath of the assassinated leader's death and accusations that political allies of President Pervez Musharraf were behind the killing.
On Sunday, Bhutto's political party named her son, Bilawal Zardari, as its symbolic leader and left day-to-day control to her husband, extending Pakistan's most enduring political dynasty.
A senior government official predicted the elections would be postponed by "six weeks or so as the environment to hold free and fair elections is not conducive." The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Bhutto was killed in a suicide bomb and gun attack on Thursday, but disagreements between her supporters and the government over the precise cause of death are undermining confidence in Musharraf and adding to calls for international investigators to probe the killing.
Video of Bhutto's assassination, obtained recently by Britain's Channel 4 television, showed a man firing a pistol at Bhutto from just feet away as she greeted supporters through the sunroof of her armored vehicle. Her hair and shawl then moved upward and she fell into the vehicle just before an explosion — apparently detonated by a second man — rocked the car.
Bhutto's aides, including one who rushed her to the hospital, said they were certain she was shot. The two-time prime minister of Pakistan was buried Friday without an autopsy.
The video contradicts the version of the attack presented by the government shortly after her death. An official from Musharraf's government cited doctors at the hospital as saying she had been not been killed by gunfire, but when the force of the blast slammed her head into a lever on the vehicle's sunroof.
A copy of the medical report sent to reporters by a prominent lawyer and hospital board member, however, said the doctors had made no determination about whether she was shot.
It gave the cause of death as "open head injury with depressed skull fracture, leading to cardiopulmonary arrest."
The report, signed by seven doctors at the hospital, said that when Bhutto was brought in, she had no pulse and was not breathing. Blood trickled from a wound on the right side of her head and whitish material that appeared to be brain matter was visible. Her clothes were soaked with blood. The medical team worked for 41 minutes to try to resuscitate her before declaring her dead.
The report said her head wound was an irregular oval shape measuring about 2 inches by 1.2 inches. No surrounding wounds or blackening were seen. "No foreign body was felt in the wound. Wound was not further explored," it said.
"The wound might appear to be a bullet wound, but without an autopsy no doctor would ever be able to give a conclusive opinion that it was or it wasn't a bullet wound," prominent opposition lawyer Athar Minallah. "Without an autopsy there can be no investigation at all."
Minallah said the doctors had called for an autopsy to definitively determine the cause of death, but that Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz refused.
The appointment of Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, as effective leader was not without complications. A former Cabinet minister who spent eight years in prison on corruption accusations, he is known as "Mr. 10 Percent" for allegedly taking kickbacks and is viewed with suspicion by many Pakistanis.
The British and U.S. governments had been pushing Bhutto, a moderate Muslim seen as friendly to the West, to form a power-sharing agreement with Musharraf after the election — a combination seen as the most effective in the fight against al-Qaida, which is believed to be regrouping in the country's lawless tribal areas.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press
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