/ 3 September 2008

Shots fired at Pakistani PM’s motorcade

Shots were fired at Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s motorcade near Islamabad’s airport on Wednesday but some officials said he was not in it at the time.

The attack is bound to compound the fears of investors and allies, who have been worrying about chronic political instability and Islamist militant violence in the nuclear-armed country.

The prime minister’s spokesperson, Zahid Bashir, said shots were fired at Gilani’s car as he was driving into the capital, Islamabad, from the city’s airport.

”Multiple shots were fired at the prime minister’s motorcade. The prime minister is safe, by the grace of God,” Bashir said.

But Interior Ministry Secretary Kamal Shah told state-run television the motorcade was on its way to the airport to pick Gilani up.

”What I was told that the vehicles were empty and they were going from Islamabad,” Shah said.

Police also said Gilani was not in the motorcade at the time of the attack.

The prime minster’s office said multiple sniper shots had been fired and two bullets hit the bullet-proof window on the driver’s side. Television pictures showed two bullet marks on the window.

Gilani is a senior member of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s party. She was killed in a suicide gun and bomb attack on December 27 while campaigning for a general election.

The government said al-Qaeda-linked militants killed her.

Bhutto’s party went on to win the February 18 election and Gilani became prime minister of a coalition government.

Security fears
Suspicion for the attack will fall on Pakistani Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies, who have unleashed a wave of bomb attacks, including some on political leaders such as Bhutto, over the past year. Hundreds of people have been killed.

Former president Pervez Musharraf, who resigned last month, narrowly survived two bomb attacks blamed on al-Qaeda.

Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who now leads her party and is expected to win a presidential election on Saturday, last week moved from his home in Islamabad into the heavily guarded prime minister’s house because of security fears.

Pakistan’s financial markets were closed when news of the attack broke but it is likely to put more pressure on a sliding rupee and stocks.

Political uncertainty, security worries and a sagging economy have sapped investor confidence since late last year.

The rupee, which has lost more than 20% against the dollar this year, traded at a record low of 77,45 to the dollar on Wednesday.

The main stock index, which is being propped up by a floor placed on the index last week, ended almost flat.

Pakistan’s stock market, which rose for six consecutive years from 2002, and was one of the top performers in Asia during that period, has skidded about 41% since its lifetime high in April and 34% this year. – Reuters