GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH, Pakistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of supporters of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto gathered in her home town on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of her assassination.
The anniversary of the killing that sparked days of violence by her supporters, comes as Pakistan faces yet another crisis.
Tension has been rising with India over last month’s militant attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, stoking fears of conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Bhutto, 54, was killed in a gun and bomb attack in the city of Rawalpindi as she emerged from an election rally just over two months after she had returned from years of self-exile.
In February, the two-time prime minister’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) rode a wave of sympathy to win an election and it now heads a coalition government. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, has become president.
Zardari, in a statement marking the anniversary, said the attack on his wife was an attack on the viability of the state and aimed at undermining efforts to build democratic structures and to fighting militancy.
“The tyrants and the killers have killed her but they shall never be able to kill her ideas that drove and inspired a generation to lofty aims,” Zardari said.
Security was tight at the Bhutto family’s graveyard in the village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, in Sindh province. She was buried next to her father, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged in 1979 after being deposed in a military coup.
Senior police official Tanvir Odho said 6,000 policemen and hundreds of paramilitary soldiers were on guard.
Bomb-sniffing dogs swept the site and surveillance cameras and walk-through metal detectors been set up. Odho estimated that 200,000 people had gathered.
Supporters cried and beat their heads and chests in a sign of mourning as they stood by the grave covered with rose petals and sheets inscribed with Koranic verses.
“I was at the rally where she was assassinated. It is my duty to be here on her anniversary,” said Maqbool Hussain, 75, a PPP activist with a picture of Bhutto stuck to the front of his shirt. “She is my leader. She is leader of all of Pakistan.”
A year after her murder, many questions remain unanswered.
Investigations by Pakistan’s previous government, British police and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency accused an al Qaeda-linked militant of killing Bhutto, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.
But many of her supporters have expressed dissatisfaction with those investigations and are perplexed as to why the PPP-led government has done virtually nothing to get to the bottom of the case.
The new government has asked for a U.N. commission of inquiry into the assassination, and on Friday Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped one could be set up soon.
Speaking at a ceremony at Bhutto’s ancestral village, Zardari promised he would expose his wife’s killers but would wait for the U.N. inquiry, no matter how long it took.
“I know who the killers are. Don’t ask me who they are, just support me,” he said.
Bhutto had spoken of al Qaeda plots to kill her. But she also had other enemies including in the intelligence services.
She escaped unhurt from a suicide attack hours after returning home on October 18 last year. Nearly 140 people were killed in the attack on her welcoming procession in Karachi.
In 1988, aged 35, Bhutto became the Muslim world’s first democratically elected woman prime minister. Deposed in 1990, she was re-elected in 1993 and ousted again in 1996, amid charges of corruption she said were politically motivated.
Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel