From Moscow to Washington to New Delhi and points in between, dismay and condemnation poured forth over the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, along with concern for the stability of the volatile region. World leaders lauded her bravery and commitment to democratic reform.
The UN Security Council voted Thursday unanimously to condemn the killing and urged all nations to help bring those responsible for “this reprehensible act” to justice.
In India, which has fought three wars against Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Bhutto is irreplaceable, and noted she had striven to improve relations between the two nuclear-armed countries.
“I was deeply shocked and horrified to hear of the heinous assassination,” Singh said. “In her death, the subcontinent has lost an outstanding leader who worked for democracy and reconciliation in her country.”
In Texas, a tense-looking President George W. Bush demanded that those responsible be tracked down and brought to justice.
“The US strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy,” Bush told reporters at his ranch in Crawford. “We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism.”
He later spoke briefly by phone with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf but White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said he had no details.
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, who met Bhutto earlier on Thursday in Islamabad, said he was “deeply pained” by the assassination of “this brave sister of ours, a brave daughter of the Muslim world”.
“She sacrificed her life, for the sake of Pakistan and for the sake of this region,” he said. “I found in her this morning a lot of love and desire for peace in Afghanistan, for prosperity in Afghanistan and ... Pakistan.”
From Iraq, a country that has struggled daily with terrorism and assassinations since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, President Jalal Talabani condemned Bhutto’s killing and said Pakistan had lost a courageous politician who stood firm against “the forces of darkness and terror.”
“We in Iraq know (the impact) of the blind terror that has become a global plague, killing innocents and shaking the foundations of stability” in nations, Talabani said in a statement released by his office.
In a letter to Musharraf, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the attack an “odious act” and said “terrorism and violence have no place in the democratic debate and the combat of ideas and programmes.”
Sarkozy said Bhutto had paid “with her life her commitment to the service of her fellow citizens and to Pakistan’s political life” and urged Pakistan’s elections be held as scheduled on January 8.
Bhutto, a former two-time prime minister of Pakistan, was killed in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi just 10 weeks after she returned to her homeland from eight years in exile. A suicide attack on her homecoming parade killed more than 140 people. The articulate, poised 54-year-old had lashed out at the spread of Islamic extremism as she campaigned for next month’s parliamentary elections.
The US had been at the forefront of foreign powers trying to arrange reconciliation between Bhutto and Musharraf, who under heavy US pressure resigned as army chief and earlier this month lifted a state of emergency, in the hope it would put Pakistan back on the road to democracy.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for “all Pakistanis to work together for peace and national unity.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Pope Benedict XVI was immediately informed of the “terrible news”.
“One cannot see signs of peace in this tormented region,” Lombardi said.
In Britain, where Bhutto had attended Oxford University, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said she “risked everything in her attempt to win democracy in Pakistan and she has been assassinated by cowards who are afraid of democracy.”
“The terrorists must not be allowed to kill democracy in Pakistan, and this atrocity strengthens our resolve that the terrorists will not win there, here, or anywhere in the world,” Brown said.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the attack “is clearly aimed at destabilizing the country.” He beseeched Pakistanis to refrain from violence.
Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi extended his condolences and urged the people of Pakistan to remain calm. “I pray that the situation in Pakistan will soon stabilize,” he said.
US Congressman Patrick Kennedy was in Pakistan and on his way to dinner with Bhutto when he heard about the attack. Kennedy told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Pakistanis are setting fires in the countryside “that are lighting up the sky tonight.”
Italian Premier Romano Prodi said he was filled with grief and called Bhutto “a woman who chose to fight her battle until the end with a single weapon - the one of dialogue and political debate.”
“The difficult path toward peace and democracy in that region must not be stopped, and Bhutto’s sacrifice will serve as the strongest example for those who do not surrender to terrorism,” Prodi said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Friday she was deeply shocked and saddened at the news of the “cowardly assassination.” Clark, in a statement, said Bhutto’s death “is a great loss to Pakistan and to the region.”
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, during a speech south of Santiago, paid “sincere tribute to a woman ... who fought her entire life for a better Pakistan.” President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina called the assassination “an abominable act,” while Venezuela’s government condemned what it called an “act of blind violence.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the “cowardly terrorist attack ... also targets the stability and democratic process of Pakistan.”
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called the attack “an assault on democracy.”
“The Philippines joins hands with the entire civilized world in solidarity against such mindless barbarity and in unwavering defense of peace, freedom, law and order,” Arroyo said.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to Musharraf saying Bhutto’s murder is “a challenge thrown down by forces of terrorism not only to Pakistan but also to the entire international community,” Russian news reports said.
Anatoly Safonov, Putin’s envoy on international cooperation against terrorism, expressed fears the assassination would trigger violent repercussions.
“The already unstable situation in Pakistan will be further exacerbated by this powerful factor,” Safonov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who personally knew Bhutto, said he hails her memory and called on the international community to support Pakistan and its democracy.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he had felt disgust when receiving the news of Bhutto’s murder, which he called “bestial.”
“I feel a strong worry for the consequences this will have for Pakistan,” he said.
Japan’s government “strongly condemns these cowardly and unforgivable acts of terrorism, which aim to destroy Pakistan’s efforts to instill democracy through fair elections,” according to a statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said Bhutto “feared nothing and served her country with valor.” (AP)