British detectives inspect Bhutto murder scene

British anti-terrorism police Saturday started examining evidence in the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, officials said.

Armed commandos enforced a security cordon as Scotland Yard detectives made their first inspection of the Liaqat Bath public park where Bhutto was murdered as she left a campaign rally on December 27, an AFP photographer witnessed.

The arrival of the five-man British squad on Friday has only deepened the conspiracy theories swirling around the gun and suicide attack on Bhutto, which sparked violent unrest across Pakistan and set vital elections back six weeks.

"The Scotland Yard team is examining the venue where she addressed a rally and the site where she was attacked," a Rawalpindi police official told AFP on Saturday.

Pakistan's interior ministry has blamed the attack on an alleged Al-Qaeda militant and says Bhutto died from an accidental head wound sustained as she ducked for cover as a gunman opened fire on her motorcade.

But President Pervez Musharraf said in comments published Saturday that a gun shot could have caused her fatal injuries, although he denied any government culpability.

Asked in an interview with CBS television whether Bhutto might have been shot, Musharraf answered: "Yes, absolutely, yes."

He added that his government did everything possible to protect Bhutto, in the face of death threats she had received.

"For standing up outside the car, I think it was she to blame alone. Nobody else. Responsibility is hers," he said, according to an interview transcript.

Party aides who were by Bhutto's side at the time say she died from a gunshot to the head. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, refused to allow an autopsy before she was buried, saying "we know how she died."

Zardari was due late Saturday to leave Pakistan for Dubai, where the couple's children, including 19-year-old son Bilawal, the new leader of the nation's largest political party and an Oxford University undergraduate, headed four days after the assassination.

Bhutto's party faithful insist the authorities know more than they are saying about the murder of the former head of Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty, and the most potent critic of the military-led government.

Pakistan People's Party (PPP) officials said the Scotland Yard mission, here at Musharraf's invitation, is a meaningless attempt to lend credibility to a deeply flawed official version of events.

"Musharraf has himself said the Scotland Yard team would not be allowed to question those we have suspected. So he has already circumscribed their role," PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP.

"We have respect for Scotland Yard but this is inadequate."

The first female leader of a Muslim nation had survived an earlier suicide bombing on the day she returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile in October, and had publicly accused powerful officials of planning her murder.

Bhutto's party has complained that the crime scene from the December 27 attack was washed shortly after her murder, destroying vital evidence -- a move Musharraf acknowledged later "should not have been done."

The president has denied that Pakistan's powerful secret intelligence agencies were involved in the killing, or that the government effectively allowed Islamist fanatics to kill her by failing to ensure her security.

The assassination has further destabilised a key US ally in the "war on terror" at a time of mounting militancy and broad-based opposition to Musharraf's rule.

It forced the postponement of general elections, billed as a turning-point in the country's transition to democratic rule after Musharraf's 1999 coup, until February 18.

The PPP has demanded a UN probe into Bhutto's assassination similar to the one into the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, but the government has ruled out such an investigation.

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