British police to help investigate Bhutto murder

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The Independent Online

A team of specialist British police will fly to Pakistan to help investigate the "martyrdom" of Benazir Bhutto after President Pervez Musharraf said he had requested their assistance in solving the assassination of the opposition leader.

Just hours after it was announced that parliamentary elections in Pakistan had been postponed until 18 February, Mr Musharraf delivered a televised address, explaining both the decision to delay the vote by six weeks and to dispatch troops and paramilitaries across the country to help ensure order.

Of his decision to seek the expertise of British officers, Mr Musharraf said he made a request to Gordon Brown and that his request had been accepted. The detectives are expected to arrive by the weekend.

Mr Musharraf said: "The nation has experienced a great tragedy. Benazir Bhutto has died in the hands of terrorists. I pray to God almighty to put the eternal soul of Benazir at peace. We would like to know what were the reasons that led to the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto."

Ms Bhutto's widowed husband, Asif Ali Zardari, had called for a full UN investigation into the assassination of his wife, who was killed during an election rally in Rawalpindi last week. While Mr Musharraf has ruled out such a move, he said British police would assess the investigation carried out by Pakistani officers and provide technical expertise where any shortcomings were found.

One issue that remains outstanding is the precise cause of Ms Bhutto's death: she was buried without a post-mortem examination and a fierce row has developed between the government and her party as to whether she was killed by gunshot wounds or a severe blow to her head.

Last night, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said a small team from its counter-terrorism command unit would travel to Pakistan within 48 hours. At least one Urdu-speaking officer of Pakistani descent will form part of the team.

Security sources said the British team would seek access to any potential evidence in the possession of UK officials which may relate to Ms Bhutto's death. They will expect to be provided with any documentation sent by Ms Bhutto and her supporters over suspected plots against her life, prior to the fatal attack.

"The Pakistanis will take the lead. We are, for the time being, however, taking a broad perspective on the remit of the investigation," said one official. "If material pertaining to the inquiry is available in Britain it is only natural it is pursued. We are going there in good faith and obviously do not expect undue restrictions placed on what we do."

In the aftermath of Ms Bhutto's death there have been widespread calls for Pakistan to seek international help in the investigation. The US had readied FBI forensics experts to fly to Pakistan. Both the US and Britain had previously been involved in discussions about a power-sharing deal between Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf.

In his address to the nation, Mr Musharraf claimed he wanted elections to proceed on 8 January but that the country's Election Commission had decided that damage caused in the violent aftermath of the Bhutto killing had rendered it an impossibility.

Mr Musharraf said that the army would be deployed across the country to allow the elections to be held peacefully, although critics have questioned what sort of political climate the use of troops will create. "We need to fight terrorism with full force, and I think that if we don't succeed in the fight against terrorism, the future of Pakistan would be dark," said Mr Musharraf.

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