Inquiry into Bhutto's death fails to satisfy supporters

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The Independent Online

The controversy surrounding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has been reopened after British detectives concluded the Pakistani opposition leader was killed after severely striking her head – rather than from a gunshot wound. The detectives also said it seemed that a suicide bomber who fired shots at Ms Bhutto before detonating the blast carried out the attack alone.

After a month-long investigation, the British team's conclusions support those of the government of President Pervez Musharraf. The government's version of events has been rejected by Ms Bhutto's supporters, who insisted she died after being fatally shot in the head.

"In my opinion ... Benazir Bhutto died as a result of a severe head injury sustained as a consequence of the bomb blast and due to head impact somewhere in the escape hatch of the vehicle," Nathaniel Cary, a British government pathologist, said in the investigators' report.

The conclusions of the British team, which was asked to investigate to counter claims that the government was involved in a cover-up, are unlikely to satisfy those who fear a conspiracy. The report comes just 10 days before the parliamentary elections, in which Ms Bhutto was standing.

Last night, Ms Bhutto's Pakistan's People's Party (PPP) repeated its call for a UN investigation. "We are looking at the report, our lawyers are going over it now, and the party will give a detailed reaction after a meeting of the party's central executive committee," said a spokeswoman. "We haven't rejected its findings, yet we maintain our demand for a UN probe that will look into the organisers, financiers, and perpetrators of this crime."

Atizaz Ahsan, a senior PPP member and leader of the lawyers' movement against Mr Musharraf, said there remained many unanswered questions. Currently under house arrest, he said by telephone: "Scotland Yard had nothing to go by and couldn't have come to any definite conclusion. It could only, at best, speculate."

Ms Bhutto was killed on 27 December as she was leaving a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. Video footage showed a gunman firing several shots at her when she stood up through the sun-roof of her car, before an explosion was triggered.

There was immediate controversy about her death and claims that the government was seeking to obscure the truth and possibly its own involvement. Police hosed the scene within 45 minutes and the authorities also failed to carry out a post-mortem examination. Ms Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, said he did not require one to be performed.

The release of the report coincided with the end of the 40-day mourning period for Ms Bhutto which has allowed political parties to resume campaigning. Mr Zardari will today address a PPP rally in the city of Thatta in Ms Bhutto's Sindh province. The elections mark a potentially crucial juncture for Pakistan, although experts said they were unlikely to alter the political balance, with the military still holding sway.