LARKANA, Pakistan – Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto toured her political stronghold in southern Pakistan on Sunday, visiting the families of victims of a suicide attack that shattered a mass rally to welcome her home and left 145 people dead.
Surrounded by more than a dozen policemen, Bhutto toured the city of Larkana, near her ancestral village, a day after beginning her first visit outside Karachi since the assassination attempt against her in the city.
Security guards encircled the two-time premier as she made her way past hundreds of residents who had squeezed into the narrow streets of the Ayoub Colony, a poor neighborhood, to welcome her. They showered her with rose petals, chanting "Prime Minister Benazir!"
Wearing a black coat and her trademark white headscarf, Bhutto went to the home of Nizamuddin Sammo, a 22-year-old supporter who was killed in the blast, and met with his mother and two sisters, promising them financial assistance from her Pakistan Peoples Party.
She praised Sammo as a young man who "lost his life in the moment to save democracy ... He did not bow his head before dictatorship and terrorism. His sacrifice will not be in vain."
Since the bombing, Bhutto had been largely confined to her residence in Karachi, but she was eager to start her campaign for parliamentary elections slated for January. She has said she refuses to be intimidated by the attempt on her life.
Hundreds of supporters greeted the tightly guarded opposition leader Saturday in the village of Garhi Khuda Baksh, where she paid homage at her father's tomb. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was Pakistan's first popularly elected leader who was overthrown by the military and hanged in 1979.
Bhutto returned to Pakistan after an eight-year exile to contest parliamentary elections slated for January, hoping for a third term.
She said that she would also travel to the cities of Lahore and Islamabad, and that she wanted to go to Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir and remote areas along the Afghan border where the Taliban and al-Qaida are tightening their grip.
In Karachi, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz promised Sunday that all efforts would be made to protect the lives and property of people during the run up to national elections slated for the new year.