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Thousands Pay Respects to Bhutto

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi just a few years after Pakistan became an independent state. Today, she was buried in her family's ancestral village outside that city. The mourners include her husband and three children. They also include thousands of political supporters. The former Pakistani prime minister was a leader of the opposition at the time of her assassination yesterday.

NPR's Philip Reeves is covering this story from Karachi, Pakistan. And Philip, what was the funeral like?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, Steve, we don't know exactly how many people converged on Benazir Bhutto's funeral today, but it appears to have been a multitude. Some reports talk of hundreds of thousands. They came in buses and tractors and cars to watch the funeral procession of Bhutto as she was taken from her family's ancestral home in southern Sindh to the nearby giant white marble family mausoleum where her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, another former prime minister and leader of Pakistan, was laid to rest after being hanged in 1979.

Bhutto was carried in a white ambulance and was lying in a plain wooden coffin draped in the party flag, the flag of the Pakistan Peoples Party that she led.

It seems that some of the scenes they were chaotic. The ambulance that she was traveling in was mobbed on occasions. It was noisy. But there were also, apparently, moments of - great touching - moments when it was extremely touching where people lined up in silence to pay their last respects to Benazir Bhutto.

INSKEEP: So that's the scene at the funeral. We're listening to NPR's Philip Reeves in Pakistan. This story is developing in many cities at once and we're going to check in with a couple of them, starting with Karachi where Philip is.

And Philip, what's the scene there?

REEVES: It's extremely strange. The last time I was here, Benazir Bhutto had just returned after eight years of self-imposed exile. The streets were jammed with her supporters. There were several hundred thousands of them. It was so crowded and noisy and frantic that you couldn't actually get through the throng in a car. You had to travel by motorbike.

Today, it's the exact opposite. There are no taxis running. The shops are all shuttered up. There are no buses. The streets are almost totally empty. There was, overnight, some violence. Some banks were attacked here and some shops have been attacked, and four people were killed including a policeman.

At the moment, there are reports of isolated pockets of unrest, but the city has an eerie calm over hanging it at this moment, and for the supporters of Benazir Bhutto, of course, grief, too.

INSKEEP: That mention of that earlier arrival in Pakistan, as a reminder, there was an attempt on her life then - a bombing - which means people knew there was a threat to her life. Is there a sense that this attack, this killing could have been prevented?

REEVES: Well, that is certainly the view of the supporters of Benazir Bhutto, who say that the security surrounding her, particularly in the aftermath of that very large suicide bombing on her arrival in which 140 people were killed, and which came very close to her convoy. They feel that the security was inadequate. There will be, of course, others though who say that if you, in this environment which is unstable and extremely heated politically, if you take to the streets and expose yourself to a crowd, then you are likely to run the risk - well, you do run the risk of attack.

INSKEEP: Philip, the other question, very briefly, is whether it's possible for Pakistan to hold its scheduled election early next month knowing that a major opposition leader is dead?

REEVES: There's lots of speculation that the elections might be postponed. At the moment, the government is saying that it intends to stick to the schedule, but it's going to talk to other party leaders. But there is violence around the country, actually, in a number of cities. And if that worsens, then, of course, that would be a factor that they have to bear in mind.

INSKEEP: And we'll continue listening for your reports. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Karachi, Pakistan. Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.