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Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto died during surgery from injuries sustained
Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto died during surgery from injuries sustained in a suicide bomb attack, local TV channels said on Thursday.

The attack occurred when shots were fired by an assassin, who then blew himself up as Bhutto left an opposition rally in Rawalpindi, near Pakistan's capital city of Islamabad, initial reports say around 20 people were killed and at least 15 injured.

Bhutto, 54, who had twice been the country's prime minister, was about to run in parliamentary elections January 8 as leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Grief stricken Bhutto supporters demonstrated outside the hospital where she died as street protests spread across the country. Thousands of protesters fired shots in the air setting fire to cars, blocking streets and smashing windows. According to local media reports, several people have been injured.

President Pervez Musharraf announced three-days of mourning in the country.

"Terrorists are the biggest obstruction in our path to progress. I will not rest till I root out terror from our soil," Musharraf said.

The UN Security Council has called an emergency meeting following Bhutto's assassination, a spokesperson for the Russian UN mission said.

"The UN Security Council will gather for an emergency meeting. It is expected that UN Security Council head will issue a statement in connection with Bhutto's murder," Maria Zakharova said.

Russia condemned the terrorist attack. "We denounce the act and express our condolences to Bhutto's relatives and friends," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin told the press.

Moscow has urged Pakistan's political forces to exercise utmost restraint and not to respond to any provocation.

"It is especially important now for all responsible forces in Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint, not to respond to provocation by extremist elements, and do all they can to counter international terrorism," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its official website.

Political analysts warned there could be dire consequences of Bhutto's assassination.

Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Institute of Middle East Studies, said that the situation could lead to instability and Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic radicals.

He said everything now hinges on whether President Pervez Musharraf and the military are able to keep the situation under control.

Sergei Oznobishchev, director of the Institute of Strategic Assessments, suggested those most likely to benefit from Bhutto's assassination were Pakistan's ruling regime and the military establishment.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October after more than eight years of self-imposed exile. Her arrival was overshadowed by a terrorist act which took the lives of 140 people and injured 500 as hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets to greet her homecoming.

Bhutto pledged to fight against extremism and for democratic reforms, and opposed the emergency rule imposed on November 3 by President Pervez Musharraf who cited a dangerous rise in militant activity.

On December 15, the president lifted the state of emergency claiming that the threat from Islamic militants had been partly dealt with and contained.

Less than a week later a suicide attack targeting Pakistan's former interior minister killed up to 60 people and injured around 40 in a mosque in the country's northwest. At least eight people were killed and seventeen wounded in a terrorist blast in northwest Pakistan two days later on December 23.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry said in early November that about 670 people in Pakistan had been killed and over 1,800 injured in a total of 157 terrorist attacks in 2007.

Bhutto was the daughter of deposed Premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the PPP. He served as the president of Pakistan between 1971 and 1973, and as prime minister between 1973 and 1977. He was hanged in 1979 by the country's military ruler, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, allegedly for sanctioning the assassination of a political opponent.

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