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Bush grapples with fallout
Benazir being rescued after her convoy was attacked on the day of her return from exile

Washington, Dec. 27 (AP): The US scrambled today with the implications of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination after investing significant diplomatic capital in promoting reconciliation between her and President Pervez Musharraf.

President George W. Bush, speaking briefly to reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanded that those responsible for the killing be brought to justice.

“The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy,” said Bush, who looked tense and took no questions. He expressed his deepest condolences to Bhutto’s family and to the families of others slain in the attack and to all the people of Pakistan.

His appearance came as US officials here struggled to cope with the immense policy implications of the assassination on relations with a nuclear-armed country that has received billions of dollars in American financial assistance and is an ally in the war on terrorism.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush planned to speak with Musharraf as soon as it could be arranged.

Bhutto had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on October 18. Her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker, killing more than 140 people.

The US had been at the forefront of foreign powers trying to arrange reconciliation between Bhutto and Musharraf, who under heavy American 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.

Bhutto’s return to the country after years in exile and the ability of her party to contest free and fair elections had been a cornerstone of Bush’s policy in Pakistan, where US officials had watched Musharraf’s growing authoritarianism with increasing unease.

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