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Bhutto killed in bomb attack

Bhutto supporters set a police vehicle alight

(Keystone)

Pakistan's opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a gun attack followed by a suicide bombing at a rally in the city of Rawalpindi.

She died in hospital from injuries sustained in Thursday's attack, which also killed at least 20 other people.

The blast occurred as Bhutto left a political rally where she addressed thousands of supporters ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemned the killing and called for calm, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.

Musharraf also called a high-level emergency meeting to discuss the government's response, the agency said.

Governments around the world expressed their shock after hearing the news. President Bush condemned the assassination while the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called it an "assault on stability" in Pakistan.

The UN Security Council described Bhutto's death as a serious blow to stability in the region and demanded justice for what it described as "this reprehensible act". It called on all Pakistanis to exercise restraint.

Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India - which has fought three wars against Pakistan, said "the subcontinent has lost an outstanding leader who worked for democracy and reconciliation in her country."

The Swiss foreign ministry expressed Switzerland's condemnation and said Bhutto's killing could endanger the fragile democratic process in Pakistan.

A journalist for Swiss television in the region, Loretta Dal Pozzo, told swissinfo that people angered and shocked by the news have been taking to the streets across the country.

"If the elections are not cancelled or postponed, it begs the question how free or democratic they will be," Dal Pozzo said.

Return from exile

Bhutto's death comes only ten weeks after she returned to Pakistan from eight years of self-imposed exile.

She escaped an attempt on her life on her return in October when a suicide bomber attacked her entourage as she was being driven through Karachi. The attack killed around 140 supporters of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and members of her security team.

Bhutto had been negotiating Pakistan's transition to civilian-led democracy with Musharraf who had granted her an amnesty in old corruption cases. But relations between the two of them had soured.

It was unclear whether charges she was facing in other countries, including Switzerland, would also be dropped.

She and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, were accused of receiving multi-million dollar kickbacks in exchange for handing out a contract to a Swiss firm during Bhutto's second term as prime minister between 1993 and 1996.

Bhutto dynasty

The politician was born on June 21, 1953, into a wealthy landowning family. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founded the PPP and was president and later prime minister of Pakistan from 1971 to 1977.

After gaining degrees in politics at Harvard and Oxford universities, she returned to Pakistan in 1977, just before the military seized power from her father. She inherited the leadership of the PPP after his execution in 1979 at the hands of the military government.

Bhutto was first voted in as prime minister in 1988, but was sacked by the then-president on corruption charges in 1990. She took power again in 1993 after her successor, Nawaz Sharif, was forced to resign after a row with the president.

Bhutto was no more successful in her second spell as prime minister, and Sharif was back in power by 1996.

In 1999, both Bhutto and her husband were sentenced to five years in jail and fined $8.6 million for taking kickbacks from a Swiss company hired to fight customs fraud.

Bhutto was abroad at the time of her conviction and chose not to return to Pakistan.

In 2006 she joined an Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy with her arch-rival Sharif, but the two disagreed over strategy for dealing with Musharraf.

swissinfo with agencies

Swiss corruption case

1994 - SGS and Cotecna sign contracts with Pakistan.

1997 - Pakistan asks Switzerland for legal assistance.

1998 - Bhutto and her husband charged in Pakistan and Switzerland.

1999 - The couple are sentenced to five years in prison by a Lahore tribunal.

2001 - The Pakistan Supreme Court rejects the judgement.

2004 - The couple are charged with advanced money laundering.

2007 - Benazir Bhutto benefits from a corruption amnesty in Pakistan.

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