World and Nation

Returning Opposition Leader Met With Bombs in Pakistan

Two bombs exploded Thursday just seconds apart and feet from a truck carrying the returning opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, narrowly missing her but killing scores of people and bloodying a triumphal homecoming after eight years in exile.

Various reports said 126 were killed and some 150 wounded, including civilians and party workers. In the initial chaos, however, the Interior Ministry could only confirm 70 deaths.

There were no claims of responsibility for the attack.

Bhutto, who had spent eight hours on the roof of the truck waving to supporters, had climbed inside the armored vehicle 10 minutes before the blasts occurred, just before midnight, said Rehman Malik, Bhutto’s security adviser and close associate.

She was immediately taken to Bilawal House, her home in Karachi, ending her parade through the city to the tomb of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

Bhutto’s arrival at 2 p.m. had drawn huge crowds, perhaps 200,000 or more, who danced on the tops of buses and surged forward as she inched her way for hours through her home city.

The strong outpouring provided an emotional homecoming for Bhutto and political vindication of sorts for a woman twice turned out of office as prime minister, after being accused corruption and mismanagement.

It also demonstrated that Bhutto remained a decisive political force in Pakistan, even after her long absence, and marked what supporters and opponents alike agreed was a new political chapter for the nation.

The bomb attack showed it to be a treacherous one as well.

The explosions, caught on camera, gave off brilliant white flashes, and set two cars ablaze. Survivors stumbled over bodies and debris in a haze of smoke. It was not immediately clear if the explosions were caused by suicide bombers.

Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party had fielded 2,000 of its own workers to form rings around their returning leader, guarding her with their numbers and preventing any vehicles or people from approaching.

Before the explosions sundered the celebration, thousands of supporters and workers from her party had lined Bhutto’s route, waving banners and surging forward for a glimpse of the opposition leader as she inched her way through the streets.

Many danced on bus tops and in the road. Bhutto waved as music pumped out from loudspeakers.

The crowd was overwhelmingly working class. Many young men said they were unemployed, but had traveled hundreds of miles, paying their own way, and camping out overnight on the road to the airport to await her arrival.

In the crowd, Raja Munir Ahmed, 42, a real estate agent, said he had come from Mirpur in a Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir. “It was a journey of 1,500 kilometers and all along we saw buses and cars carrying Peoples Party flags,” he said. “People want change. People want to get rid of inflation and unemployment.”

Then he shouted, “Long live Bhutto!” and disappeared into the crowd.

Such supporters were among the majority of those killed and wounded. But about 20 were also police and law enforcement officials, said Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao.