British detectives visit morgue in Bhutto probe: officials

( AFP ) - British detectives investigating the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Banazir Bhutto examined the partial remains of people killed in the suicide blast, officials said.

The anti-terrorism specialists visited the Rawalpindi morgue where the remains of some of the 23 victims of the gun and suicide bomb attack have been kept since the December 27 assassination.

"The team visited the mortuary where they examined unidentified limbs, took photographs and collected samples of shreds and pieces collected from the blast site," a Pakistani security official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

They also took a statement from Deputy Superintendent Police Ishtiaq Shah who was wounded in the attack and was being treated in the garrison town's Combined Military Hospital.

Bhutto's murder as she left a political rally sparked nationwide unrest and forced the delay of key parliamentary elections seen as a vital step on the country's return to full democracy after eight years of military-led rule.

President Pervez Musharraf invited Scotland Yard to help with the investigation amid widespread disbelief at the authorities' initial findings on her cause of death and their shambolic efforts at gathering evidence.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and the perpetrators are believed to have died in the bomb blast.

The government has blamed a local Al-Qaeda leader but he has denied any involvement.

Musharraf has since backed away from the interior ministry's initial assessment that the two-time prime minister died from hitting her head against her car sunroof due to the shockwave caused by the bomb blast.

Aides from her political party who were with her at the time insist she was killed by a shot to the head from a gunman who was seen firing at least three rounds from close range as Bhutto waved to supporters from her car roof.

The confusion has fuelled suspicions among Bhutto loyalists that the government is trying to cover up what it knows about the murder, after Bhutto had publicly accused senior officials of plotting to kill her.

The British detectives, who arrived last week, inspected the crime scene and Bhutto's car over the weekend but they have made no statements to the media.

Much of the evidence was believed to have been destroyed in the hours after the attack when officials hosed down the crime scene, and no autopsy of Bhutto's body was carried out due to her family's objections.

Musharraf told the CBS programme "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that a gunshot could have been the cause of Bhutto's fatal injuries after all.

Asked if Bhutto might have been shot, he answered: "Yes, absolutely, yes. Possibility."

Bhutto supporters from her Pakistan People's Party (PPP), many of whom believe the authorities know more than they are saying about the murder of the head of Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty, were furious.

"The regime is constantly changing its position and that reinforces doubts and suspicions and lends credence to demands by the PPP for an independent inquiry under UN auspices," spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP Sunday.

Bhutto's death prompted the delay of January 8 general elections to February 18.

Meanwhile Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, returned to Pakistan on Monday after visiting his children and mother-in-law in Dubai, PPP officials said.

Zardari, a former MP who served time in jail for corruption, has become co-chairman of the PPP while his 19-year-old son Bilawal was named leader of the nation's largest political party after the assassination.

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