KARACHI, Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto on Sunday made her first public foray since a bloody attack on her homecoming celebrations, seeking to signal that she will not be deterred from mingling with supporters as her party commences its campaign for parliamentary elections.
But her visits, to a Karachi hospital where many of those wounded in Friday’s suicide bombing were being treated and afterward to a Sufi shrine for prayers, were brief, unannounced and tightly controlled, in sharp contrast to the carnival-like open-air procession that preceded the deadly attack.
The Western-backed former Pakistani prime minister received a condolence call Sunday from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her party said. In the call, Rice expressed sorrow over deaths and injuries in the attack, which killed more than 135 people and maimed hundreds more, Bhutto aides said.
Speaking to journalists at the headquarters of her Pakistan Peoples Party, Bhutto acknowledged that she and her supporters would have to “modify our campaign to some extent” because of the attacks. But she added: “We will continue to meet the public. We will not be deterred.”
In her 15-minute stop at Karachi’s Jinnah hospital, Bhutto visited the bedsides of several men who were injured while acting as volunteer security around her convoy. Police and party faithful took the brunt of the powerful blast, which came as Bhutto’s convoy was in the ninth hour of a trip from Karachi’s airport to the city center, moving at less than a mile an hour because of the enormous crowds. Bhutto, who was in the interior of her steel-reinforced vehicle at the time, escaped injury.
She then offered prayers at a shrine in Karachi’s poverty-stricken Lyari neighborhood, a traditional party stronghold. As word of her appearance spread, a crowd gathered and chanted: “Prime Minister Benazir!”
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, although at least one faction issued threats against the former leader prior to her return. Bhutto said at a news conference hours after the attack that she believed Islamic militants had carried out the bombing, with the possible complicity of some former and present officials in the government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
The government vehemently has denied any responsibility and said everything possible was done to protect Bhutto.