Bhutto's Aides Accuse Government of Cover-Up

Militants deny involvement and blame the government for Bhutto's killing.

Dec. 29, 2007— -- The Islamic militant accused by the Pakistani government of being behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto today denied that he or al Qaeda orchestrated the killing, and opposition leaders say the allegations are part of a government cover-up.

"We have intelligence intercepts indicating that al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud is behind her assassination," Pakistan interior ministry representative Javed Iqbal Cheema said on Friday.

The ministry released a transcript of a purported conversation between Mehsud and another militant, apparently discussing the assassination.

"It was a spectacular job. They were very brave boys who killed her," Mehsud said, according to the transcript.

Government Cover-up?

A spokesman for Mehsud, Maulana Mohammed Umer, denied the al Qaeda leader was involved in the attack and dismissed the allegations as "government propaganda," in a telephone call he made to The Associate Press from the tribal region of South Waziristan.

"The fact is that we are only against America, and we don't consider political leaders of Pakistan our enemy," Umer said, adding that he was speaking on instructions from Mehsud.

Bhutto's supporters are calling the government's allegations against al Qaeda a cover-up. Her aides say that accusing Mehsud is "dangerous nonsense."

The slain opposition leader's party, the Pakistan People's Party, insists that she was shot to death, which breaks with the government line that she died when she hit her head on her vehicle's sunroof during the attack.

"Whereas it is possible that al Qaeda is the culprit, it is also possible that some other hands may have joined hands with al Qaeda," said Gen. Talat Masood, who was Pakistan's defense minister under Bhutto from 1988-90, during her first time in office.

Elections in Doubt

Pakistan is reeling in the shock waves from Bhutto's death. Thousands of angry supporters are protesting in the streets and any hopes for the parliamentary elections that are scheduled for Jan. 8 are fading.

Nine Election Commission offices were burned by mobs in Bhutto's home province of Sindh this morning. The commission also announced it will hold an emergency meeting to decide whether the vote can go ahead. Many believe it won't.

Now that Bhutto, the main opposition candidate is dead, Pakistan's other opposition leaders, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan say they will also boycott the vote.

Sharif has demanded that Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf resign, and blames the country's ruling party for the assassination.

On Friday, Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro said the government had no immediate plans to postpone the election, despite the violence and the decision by Nawaz Sharif, another opposition leader, to boycott the poll.

State of Fear

"The city is burning," said a protestor in Karachi. "Workers are not going to their jobs, people are worried because they can't get their medicines."

In Rawalpindi, thousands of Bhutto supporters took to the streets after a prayer ceremony for her, throwing stones and clashing with police who fired tear gas to try and subdue the crowd.

Many people -- apparently afraid of what might happen now, or stricken more with grief than rage -- are staying home as sporadic street violence continues across Pakistan.

According to government officials, 38 people have been killed in mass riots since Bhutto's assassination Thursday. Police in the Sindh province, however, say that at least 44 people were killed there alone.

In contrast to the violence raging in many places across Pakistan, the capital Islamabad has been eerily quiet. Gas stations are closed, planes aren't flying and the trains aren't running.

ABC News correspondent Nick Watt and The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.

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