December 30th, 2007 05:30 EST
Officials urging calm, democratic progress following Bhutto assassination
Washington -- The United States is reaching out to political leaders across Pakistan in the wake of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination, urging them to move forward with the democratic process.
"She was a champion for democracy," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said of Bhutto after signing a condolence book at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington. "In my conversations with her, her commitment and her dedication came through very clearly, and most especially her love for her people and for her country."
"The way to honor her memory is to continue the democratic process in Pakistan so that the democracy that she so hoped for can emerge," Rice continued.
Bhutto was killed at a December 27 political rally after addressing thousands of supporters in a park in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, ahead of January 8, 2008, parliamentary elections. She was killed by an assailant who reportedly shot her at close range then detonated explosives, killing at least 15 other people and injuring several others.
Since then, as many as 32 people have been killed in rioting in several major cities across the country. Pakistani authorities report that al-Qaida militant Baitullah Mehsud, one of the country's most wanted terrorists, was responsible for Bhutto's murder.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said December 28 that he had no information that could confirm an al-Qaida connection to the assassination, but reported that U.S. officials have spoken with leaders of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, as well as the political parties of former Prime Minister Nawas Sharif and President Pervez Musharraf, appealing for calm and urging them to continue to move forward with the political process.
"We encourage all moderate forces in Pakistan to work together and to cooperate in what is a common fight against extremism and a common desire to see Pakistan move forward as a moderate modern Islamic country," Casey said.
Sharif, who like Bhutto recently returned to Pakistan as part of the transition from military rule, has stated that his party will boycott the January 8 election, which had been delayed after Musharraf declared a state of emergency from October 3 to December 16.
"We would certainly encourage him as well as all others, as well as all political parties to participate in the process," Casey said, "with an eye toward ensuring that there is the broadest possible opportunity for the Pakistani people to choose among a variety of legitimate political actors in the country."
"What we want to see happen is the development of a democratic system in Pakistan, the development of democratic institutions and one of the key ways to ensure that the Pakistani people have a government that reflects their will and has a government that is capable of fighting extremism," Casey added.
"We believe that if elections can proceed as scheduled, smoothly and safely, then we would certainly encourage that happening," Casey said.
The full text of Rice's December 28 statement is available on the State Department Web site.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)