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51 dead, 150 wounded as 2 blasts hit near former premier Bhutto after her return to Pakistan

KARACHI, Pakistan — Two bombs went off Thursday night near a truck carrying former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on her triumphant return to Pakistan after eight years in exile, killing at least 51 people and wounding 150, an official said. Party workers and police said Bhutto was unhurt.

Associated Press photographer B.K. Bangash at the scene said he saw between 50 and 60 dead or badly injured people. He said some of the bodies were ripped apart.

An initial small explosion was followed by a huge blast just feet from the front of the truck carrying Bhutto during a procession through Karachi. The blast shattered windows in her vehicle and set a police escort vehicle on fire.

Those traveling atop the truck with Bhutto climbed down, with one man jumping off while others climbed down. Bhutto's lawyer, Sen. Babar Awan, said that the former premier was safe.

Police Chief Azhar Farooqi told Dawn News that Bhutto was rushed from the area under contingency plans.

"She was evacuated very safely and is now in Bilawal House," Farooqi said, referring to Bhutto's residence in Karachi.

Officials at four hospitals in Karachi reported a total of 51 dead and 150 wounded.

Dr. Seemi Jamali of Jinnah Hospital said it had 19 dead from the blast, and of the 70 wounded, between 20 and 25 were in critical condition.

A man who identified himself only as Dr. Faisal of Liaqat National Hospital, reported 30 killed and 80 wounded, many critically.

Provincial Home Secretary Ghulam Mohammed Mohtaram said the main force of the blast appeared to be taken by the police vehicle.

Footage from the scene of the blasts showed bodies on the ground, lying motionless, under a mural that read "Long Live Bhutto."

Men grabbed several stretchers with injured people from ambulances and rushed them into what appeared to be a hospital emergency room, while others carried the wounded in their arms. Many of the wounded were covered in blood, and some had their clothes ripped off.

Pools of blood, broken glass, tires and bits of clothing littered the ground near where the bombs went off. Stretchers were lined up in what seemed to be an entryway to a hospital, and medical personnel began to tend to the injured while dozens of people walked through in a daze.

Men at the scene moved the injured away from the fires near the blast site. One bystander came upon a body, checked for signs of life, and moved on, presumably to find more who could be saved.

Several motorcycles also lay on their sides. Flames burned in the center of the street.

After the blasts, pickup trucks filled with men rushed away from the scene and others began to run, but many more stayed and milled in between the police vehicle and those of the procession.

Cars halted in the road, people climbing on car roofs to try to catch a glimpse of the fire behind them.

More than 150,000 jubilant supporters had surrounded the convoy carrying Bhutto amid massive security in Karachi.

Authorities had urged her to travel in Karachi by helicopter to reduce the risk of attack. But Bhutto, hated by radical Islamists because she supports the U.S.-led war on terrorism, brushed off the concerns.

"I am not scared. I am thinking of my mission," she had told reporters on the plane. "This is a movement for democracy because we are under threat from extremists and militants."

Bhutto recently courted controversy in Pakistan by saying that she would cooperate with the American military in targeting Osama bin Laden, and authorities warned that Islamic militants could launch suicide attacks and roadside bombings against her.

Asked about such threats on Wednesday in Dubai, Bhutto said Islam forbids suicide bombings and attacks on her. "Muslims know if they attack a woman they will burn in hell," she said.

The government of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, had appealed to Bhutto to abandon plans for a snail-paced grand procession through Karachi, saying it would leave her vulnerable. The government said the main threat was from Taliban and al-Qaida.