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Pakistan Premier's Brother Is Shot to Death by Police

Asia: Death of Benazir Bhutto's estranged sibling ends fierce rivalry for political mantle of their late father.

September 21, 1996|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW DELHI — Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's estranged younger brother and political rival, Murtaza, was shot and killed in a gun battle with police Friday evening near his home in the southern port city of Karachi, authorities said.

The 42-year-old Bhutto died on the operating table at a private hospital as doctors tried to remove a bullet from his neck, said Arfi Elahi, deputy police commissioner for Karachi's southern district.

"How could this happen?" Murtaza's young Palestinian wife, Ghanva, sobbed as she announced his death to hundreds of friends and supporters who had gathered outside Mideast Hospital.

The prime minister rushed from Islamabad, the capital, to Karachi, reaching the city early this morning. "As you can imagine, she is very upset," Bashir Riaz, a family friend, told the Associated Press.

Murtaza Bhutto's death brought to an end the fierce rivalry between him and his sister for the political mantle of their late father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and was the latest tragedy to strike the prominent and wealthy land-holding clan from Pakistan's southern Sindh province.

Authorities said the gunfight broke out at 8:40 p.m. near Bhutto's residence in Karachi's exclusive seaside Clifton district when three cars bringing him and some followers home from a reception failed to stop for roadblocks.

According to police, Bhutto's followers fired on them when they were ordered to halt. Officers returned fire, and Bhutto was hit six times in the neck, arms and stomach, police said.

Four of Bhutto's followers were killed by gunfire. Seven other people, including two police officers, were wounded.

Shoaib Suddle, deputy inspector general of police, said officers had insisted on examining the vehicles because of tightened security imposed in violence-plagued Karachi after three bombings Wednesday that killed one person and injured at least three others.

Police accused Murtaza Bhutto's political faction of responsibility for the blasts. Hours before his death, Bhutto denied involvement and told reporters that police had arrested at least 70 members of his group in the previous 24 hours. He charged police with staging the bombings.

In 1977, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded the Pakistan People's Party, was ousted from power in a bloodless coup by Gen. Zia ul-Haq. He was hanged two years later.

Along with his younger brother, Shahnawaz, Murtaza Bhutto fled abroad and organized an underground resistance group to avenge their father's death and combat Zia's authoritarian rule. In 1986, Shahnawaz died in southern France, apparently from poisoning.

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Benazir, now 43, tried to carry on the struggle from inside Pakistan, spending five years in jail and earning the loyalty of most PPP members for her bravery. After Zia died in a 1988 plane crash, Benazir led the party to victory and became the first woman ever elected to head a Muslim country. After 20 months, she lost power, but she returned to office in 1993.

Benazir and Murtaza had been estranged since 1993, when he returned to Pakistan after 16 years of self-imposed exile in Syria. He had been accused of involvement in a 1981 airline hijacking and a string of other criminal acts dating back to the Zia era, and his sister insisted he clear his name in court. He accused her of harassment.

Murtaza Bhutto was found innocent of most charges. While free on bail last year, he formed the rival Shaheed Bhutto faction of the PPP. The siblings' mother, Nusrat, sided with her son, but his party failed to rally popular support.

Murtaza Bhutto accused his sister of joining forces with the men responsible for their father's death. He also intensified his criticism of her alleged corruption and misrule as Pakistan's parliamentary opposition began pressing for her removal by presidential decree.

On July 7, Benazir and Murtaza met for the first time in six years. "There are no disputes among us in the family," Murtaza said at the time. "It's not something personal, but we have political differences."

After Friday's gun battle, a curfew was clamped on Clifton, where many of Karachi's richest citizens and foreign diplomats live. Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops in bulletproof vests patrolled the area.

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