KARACHI, October 19 (RIA Novosti) - Up to 140 people died and hundreds were injured in two explosions early on Friday that overshadowed the return of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
The blasts went off just after midnight in Karachi, the country's largest city, in a crowd of thousands of supporters who had gathered to greet the motorcade of the ex-premier, who flew in from Dubai ten hours earlier following eight years of self-imposed exile. The windows of her bullet-proof truck were shattered, but she emerged unharmed.
Police said the attack, one of the bloodiest in Pakistan's history, was perpetrated by suicide bombers, who let off a grenade before blowing themselves up. A severed head believed to belong to one of the bombers has been found by police, and his identity is being established, according to national TV channels.
The exact number of victims remains uncertain, with diverging reports coming from police and hospitals. TV reports said up to 500 were injured.
President General Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack as a "conspiracy against democracy," and phoned Bhutto to express his shock and sadness over the incident, and pledged to track down the organizers of the attack.
The two politicians, who had been widely perceived as rivals in the elections due in January, have tentatively agreed on a power-sharing arrangement, an idea that has received Washington's support.
Bhutto had pledged a day before her arrival in Karachi to put an end to extremism and to develop democracy in the country if she returns to power. Speaking at a news conference in Dubai, she confirmed her intention to run in the parliamentary elections.
She said she had received threats from militants, but that: "Muslims know that if they attack a woman they will burn in hell." Extra police reinforcements and bomb disposal experts had been deployed from other parts of the country to provide protection.
One of Bhutto's supporters told journalists that despite the terrorist attack she would remain in the country and lead her party to parliamentary elections in 2008.
According to national media, at least one terrorist responsible for the blasts could have been disguised in the uniform of a counterterrorism officer, which could explain why he got so close to Bhutto's truck.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to his Pakistani counterpart, Pervez Musharraf.
"This outrageous crime is one more tragic confirmation of the need to further consolidate the efforts of the international community in the fight against international terrorism and extremism," he said in a telegram.
Bhutto accused supporters of former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq of orchestrating the attack.
"I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General Zia who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism," she told Paris Match.
Zia, who overthrew Bhutto's father Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and had him executed in 1979, died in a car crash in 1988.
Benazir Bhutto, who leads the center-left Pakistan People's Party (PPP), served as Pakistan's prime minister on two separate occasions, but both her previous governments were brought down amid corruption allegations and she was forced to flee in 1999.
President Musharraf has declared an amnesty for Bhutto to protect her against the corruption charges, which she has dismissed as politically motivated, but the Pakistani Supreme Court is set to hear appeals against the amnesty.