Rioting in Pakistan Kills 38, Causes Tens of Millions of Dollars in Damage

Mass rioting following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has led to the deaths of 38 people and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, the government said Saturday.

Rioters destroyed 176 banks, 72 train cars and 18 rail stations, said Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema. At least 100 prisoners were sprung from jails, he said.

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Speaking at a news conference, Cheema reiterated the government's claim that Islamic militant leader Baitullah Mehsud was behind Bhutto's killing, despite Mehsud's denials.

"We have the evidence that he is involved," Cheema said. "Why should he (Mehsud) accept that he has done it. It does not suit him. I don't think anybody has the capability to carry out such suicide attacks except for those people."

Cheema said Pakistan did not need foreign help to probe the killing.

"This is not an ordinary criminal matter in which we require assistance of the international community. I think we are capable of handling it," he said.

Cheema also responded to reports by Bhutto aides that the former prime minister was killed by gunshot wounds and not by the force of a subsequent suicide attack as the government said.

"We gave you absolute facts, nothing but the facts," he said. "It was corroborated by the doctors' report. It was corroborated by the evidence collected."

"It is immaterial as to how she died. What is more important is who are the people who killed her," he said.

He said Bhutto's party was free to exhume her body if they wanted and conduct a post mortem.

The government has said Bhutto's widow Asif Ali Zardari did not allow such an examination before the opposition leader was buried Friday.