Pakistan retracts 'lever killed Bhutto' theory

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 01, 2008 08:30 hrs

Islamabad: The Pakistan government has retracted its contention that former prime minister Benazir Bhutto died after striking her head against the sunroof lever of her SUV and has "apologised" for floating the theory.

"The caretaker government of Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro on Monday apologised for the highly provocative comment made by the Interior Ministry spokesman that Bhutto died because she hit the lever of her bullet-proof Land Cruiser on the fateful (Dec 27) evening," The News reported on Tuesday.

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At a briefing for newspaper editors from all over the country, Interior Minister Lt Gen. (retd) Hamid Nawaz asked the media and the people to "forgive and ignore" the comment by Ministry spokesman Brig (retd) Javed Cheema.

Cheema's comment caused a huge uproar as private TV channels obtained footage showing the assassin pointing and firing a gun at Bhutto. She is then shown collapsing into the vehicle. It is only later that a suicide bomber blows up at the site in Rawalpindi, causing mayhem and killing at least 20 people.

"Editor after editor lambasted the government for its non-serious attitude towards the tragedy, specially the statement that Bhutto had died by hitting the lever and not by a bullet or shrapnel," the newspaper said.

Soomro first tried to defend Cheema, saying he was just relating the facts that had been presented to him, especially about the cause of death. "We are conducting an investigation and all TV footage, all evidence, that would be available will help in reaching a definite conclusion," Soomro maintained.

"But the issue did not subside. More questions were asked with reference to the medical report of Rawalpindi doctors and it was emphatically pointed out that the report quoted by the spokesman never mentioned the cause of the head injury to Bhutto. It only said there was a head injury with a broken skull that caused cardio-pulmonary arrest," The News said.

Soomro then referred the issue to the Interior Minister, who explained in detail the security measures that were taken and asserted that Bhutto had a bullet- proof vehicle that could not be damaged by any bomb or bullet.

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Once Bhutto was inside the vehicle, Nawaz stated, she was secure and police vans were trying to keep her vehicle clear of other vehicles. But when she emerged from the sunroof, she exposed herself to an attack.

"Nothing would have happened to her even if everyone in the world had wanted to hurt her (if she had not come out)," Nawaz maintained.

"An editor again questioned why Cheema had overstepped by saying that a car lever had killed her when the manufacturers of the car and (husband) Asif Ali Zardari had stated that there was no metallic lever which could have caused the wound to her head. The medical report also did not mention any such cause of death," The News said.

"Then the Interior Minister said the spokesman's comments may have been a mistake as 'we are faujis (soldiers) and we are not so articulate in presenting our views as you journalists can. I am sorry if that happened and please forgive us and ignore the comment', Nawaz told the editors."

Soomro was asked whether he would allow a foreign investigation into the murder but he continued to assert that Pakistani experts were fully competent to do the job.

"His continuous denials raised questions about the offer made by President (Pervez) Musharraf to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that foreign help (to probe the killing) could be welcomed by Pakistan," The News said.

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