Bhutto says some madrasas groom killers

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said on Sunday some religious schools were turning children into killers.

Speaking to about 25 000 supporters near her ancestral home in the southern town of Larkana, she also renewed accusations the government had done nothing to stop militant violence.

”They always try to stop democratic forces but don’t make any effort to check extremists, terrorists and fanatics,” she told a rally at a cricket stadium, two days after a suicide bomber killed nearly 50 worshippers in a mosque.

Pakistan has seen a surge in violence this year with more than 400 people killed in suicide bomb attacks across the country in recent months.

On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed four soldiers and five civilians in an attack on a military convoy in the Swat valley in the north-west of the country, police said.

Bhutto said President Pervez Musharraf had spoken of the need to reform religious schools, or madrasas, but had done nothing. She said she respected genuine religious schools.

”Then there are the political madrasas, the political madrasas that teach their pupils how to make bombs, how to use rifles and how to kill women, children and the elderly.”

”Who they are who tell children to carry out bombing on Eid al-Adha,” she said, referring to the attack on Friday in the north-western town of Charsadda.

Police said they suspected Islamist militants based in semi-autonomous tribal lands on the Afghan border for the attack.

At Bhutto’s rally, private security guards used metal detectors to check people entering the stadium.

Bhutto survived a suicide attack in October when a bomber killed nearly 150 people at a procession in Karachi to welcome her home from eight years of self-imposed exile.

”Extremism is getting strong in our tribal areas and lawlessness is spreading throughout the country,” Bhutto said.

Devoted followers

Pakistan’s allies hope the election will bring stability to the nuclear-armed country after months of turmoil. Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November before stepping down as army chief. He lifted emergency rule on December 15.

Pakistan is seen as a vital ally in the United States campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. But inside Pakistan, many Pakistanis are more concerned about inflation and unemployment ahead of the January 8 election.

Bhutto was dogged by accusations of corruption when she served two terms as prime minister in the late 1980s and 1990s but the daughter of Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, commands a devoted following.

”I was a young student when Bhutto was alive. He was a great leader and I’ve been a follower since,” said bank worker Farzand Ali. ”Who says there was corruption? Prove it. Whatever you say we’re followers.”

The vote for provincial parliaments and a national assembly from which a prime minister and a government will be drawn is a three-way race between Bhutto, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and the party that ruled under Musharraf.

Analysts expect a hung Parliament which would likely mean two of the three main parties having to forge an alliance.

Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in 1999, was allowed back from seven years of exile last month and has been campaigning for the election despite a ban on running because of past criminal convictions he says were politically motivated.

He was in the southern city of Karachi on Sunday. – Reuters

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