Conspiracy Warnings Fly on Anniversary of Bhutto Assassination

Posted December 27th, 2011 at 12:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Pakistan's ruling party is warning the country's fragile democracy is at risk, delivering the dire message on the fourth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis rallied Tuesday at the marble mausoleum in Gahri Khuda Baksh that is Mrs. Bhutto's final resting place. Many of those in the crowd waved flags and banners.

Mrs. Bhutto's husband, embattled Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, addressed the crowd from behind bullet-proof glass, assuring those assembled he will not step down and that he will not let anyone break his political federation. In a separate statement, Mr. Zardari called on “democratic forces and patriotic Pakistanis” to foil conspiracies “against democracy and democratic institutions.”

Mr. Zardari's civilian government is facing mounting criticism over a secret memo, sent months ago, appealing for U.S. help to prevent a feared military coup. The memo has sparked calls for an investigation and has fueled speculation about a growing rift between the country's civilian and military leaders.

Both the government and army officials have made efforts to defuse the tension. Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, last week denied rumors that he was plotting to overthrow of President Zardari's increasingly unpopular government. And Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has denied media reports that he was planning to fire General Kayani and the head of the country's powerful spy agency, the ISI.

But Mr. Gilani may have added to the growing sense of unease Tuesday. Speaking to reporters during the rally, he said investigations of the former prime minister's assassination “have been completed, and martyr Benazir Bhutto's case is under judgment.”

Prime Minister Gilani also said the country's interior ministry could soon share with the public some of the information about her death.

Many of those in the crowd echoed calls for justice. One of them, Samreen Shahzadi, said justice needs to be served no matter who is responsible, adding, “Madam's blood should not go waste.''

The rally on the anniversary of former Prime Minister Bhutto's death was two days after cricket legend turned politician Imran Khan drew more than 100,000 people to a rally in the southern city of Karachi. Khan leads the Movement for Justice Party whose members include several prominent politicians, such as former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The former cricket star is also popular with Pakistan's urban middle class.