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Cause of Bhutto's Death Uncertain, Musharraf Says

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was hesitant to accept causes given for the death last week of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and rejected claims of any government role.

Musharraf said Thursday that uncertainty remained about the exact cause of Bhutto's death, despite an initial government report that she was killed when a bomb blast thrust her head into her vehicle, fracturing her skull.

"One should not give a statement that's 100 percent final. That's the flaw that we suffer from," Musharraf said at a news conference, noting that more evidence was emerging about the attack.

"We needed more experience, maybe more forensic and technical experience that our people don't have. Therefore I thought Scotland Yard may be more helpful."

Musharraf solicited the help of Britain's Scotland Yard investigators to dismiss accusations that Pakistan's military or intelligence services were involved.

Supporters of the former prime minister say the government did not provide Bhutto adequate security and in some way had a hand in her death following the shooting and suicide bombing on Dec. 27.

Musharraf rebuffed those claims and has implied her death was in part due to her own poor judgment.

Bhutto emerged through the sunroof of her armored vehicle to greet supporters after a rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, when she came under attack.

"Who is to be blamed for her coming out (of) her vehicle?" he asked, adding that others in the vehicle had not been hurt in the attack. The vehicle was bulletproof and bombproof.

Bhutto was allowed to choose the police superintendent in charge of her security and had four vehicles and 30 officers with her and 1,000 more police deployed at the rally, Musharraf said.

He said it was the responsibility of leaders within the Pakistan Peoples Party to stop supporters from swarming her vehicle. Any police action against them, he said, would have involved a baton charge or the firing of tear gas.

But Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, did concede to shortcomings in Pakistan's handling of the case, including hosing down of the bomb site hours after the attack, which was widely seen as undermining a detailed forensic examination.

Still, he dismissed suggestions of a deliberate attempt to conceal evidence.

"If you are meaning they (cleaned the area) by design I would not say, 'no.' It's just inefficiency — people thinking things have to be cleared, traffic has to go through," he said.

Musharraf also denied reports that al-Qaida was getting stronger in Pakistan, but said the country faced an increasing threat from Taliban militants.

A senior police investigator said Pakistani police have already secured key evidence, including the suspected bomber's remains, two pistols and cell phones.

Scotland Yard investigators, known for strong forensic techniques, could help determine whether either pistol was fired in the attack and also could examine video, the investigator said.

The Pakistan Peoples Party said a U.N. probe would be the only way to reveal the truth behind Bhutto's assassination.

"The mist of confusion will be cleared only if the regime accepts the party's demand for holding a U.N. inquiry into the assassination as was done in the case of Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri's murder," said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the party.

"The regime has lost all credibility. Neither a domestic inquiry nor vague foreign involvement ... would lay to rest the lingering doubts and suspicions," he said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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