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UK police team in Pakistan for Bhutto probe

A British police team flew into Pakistan on Friday to help probe the killing of Benazir Bhutto after President Pervez Musharraf admitted he was unhappy with his country’s handling of the investigation.

The detectives from an elite anti-terrorism team at Scotland Yard flew in amid raging controversy over the assassination of the opposition leader, which sparked a wave of bloody unrest and forced the postponement of elections.

”The team has arrived,” British High Commission spokesperson Aidan Liddle said. ”They are here to offer assistance to the Pakistani inquiry and do whatever they can.”

Six suited men believed to be the British team were ushered out of the airport at Rawalpindi, near Islamabad and into a white minibus, before shutting the curtains and speeding off without talking to reporters.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said earlier the Yard team would ”help Pakistani investigators with their probe into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.”

For the first time since Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide attack that his government blames on al-Qaeda, Musharraf acknowledged reports the crime scene had been quickly hosed down after her murder, possibly destroying evidence.

‘Conspiracy theories’

He said on Thursday that he hoped the Scotland Yard team would help dispel ”conspiracy theories” about Bhutto’s death at an election rally on December 27.

Her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has ridiculed the government account of her death, which said the shooter had missed her and that she died fracturing her skull by smashing her head against her car’s sunroof.

Many Bhutto supporters have blamed the president for her death — at the very least for failing to provide sufficient security after she only narrowly survived Pakistan’s worst terror attack in October, which left scores dead.

But Musharraf denied he or the Pakistani establishment were involved in the killing, and rejected suggestions the country’s powerful intelligence agencies had mounted a cover-up.

”I am sure that they did not do it with an intention of hiding some secrets or that the intelligence agencies instructed them to hide secrets,” he said, when asked to explain the swift clearing of the site after Bhutto’s death.

He reacted angrily when asked if the British team would be allowed to question key politicians and an intelligence chief Bhutto had accused of involvement in the October 18 attack on her homecoming parade in Karachi.

Musharraf indicated that the team would not be given permission.

The arrival of the Yard team, described by British Foreign Minister David Miliband as ”technical experts”, has been greeted with scepticism by the Pakistani media.

”There is no doubt that the Yard can do nothing to help. In fact, one wonders if any power on Earth can assist Pakistan in escaping the quagmire of difficulties it finds itself in,” said an editorial in the News.

”It is yet unclear how much assistance the world’s premier criminal investigative agency can offer in this regard,” added the English-language daily.

Musharraf is struggling to keep a lid on a wave of deadly unrest sparked by Bhutto’s death as the country prepares for general elections which have now been delayed by nearly six weeks to February 18.

The PPP, the country’s largest party, has alleged the delay is an attempt to give Musharraf’s allies time to fix the result. He denied that the polls would be tainted.

Pakistan’s opposition parties have demanded better security for the lengthy election campaign. — AFP



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